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Japan Loses 1-0 in Its World Cup Debut

By Yuri Kageyama
Associated Press
Sunday, June 14, 1998; 12:15 p.m. EDT

TOULOUSE, France — Japan found out about the World Cup the hard way.

Making their debut in soccer's world championship and set to be co-hosts in 2002, the Japanese created a string of chances against two-time champion Argentina Sunday but gave star striker Gabriel Batistuta the only goal of the game in a 1-0 loss.

Midfielder Hiroshi Nanami lost possession in his own area in the 28th minute and the Fiorentina striker ran chipped the ball past goalie Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.

It was a cruel start for the World Cup rookies, who created good chances but couldn't get the ball in the net. Twice near the end of the game, they came close to a tie, but not close enough.

``It is very unfortunate that we could not score a goal. I believe results count at the World Cup,'' said Japanese coach Takeshi Okada, choked with emotion. ``The goal we allowed was inevitable. Our players were aggressive and positive.''

Japan's first World Cup shot came after only two minutes, a 30-yard drive by Motohiro Yamaguchi that was way wide.

Argentina had chances, but Kawaguchi made a series of great saves. But the pressure paid off in the 28th minute.

A through ball should have been cleared by Nanami just inside the Japanese area but it squirmed away from him and went straight into Batistuta's path. The striker known as ``Batigol'' just flipped the past the advancing goalie into the net.

It was almost 2-0 in the 37th minute when Batistuta flicked a long-range header against the post. Lopez dived to head the rebound in from 8 meters but Kawaguchi recovered to save. He rescued his team again with two reaction saves in the 70th minute, beating out a close-range prod by Diego Simeone and then recovering to smother the follow-up from Abel Balbo.

Six minutes from the end, Japan almost tied it, when Yutaka Akita climbed above Simeone to head across the face of the Argentine goal, Soma just failing to connect as he slid in at the far post.

The Japanese missed another chance in injury time when Lopes connected with a right wing cross but his goal-bound shot was deflected by an Argentine player for a corner.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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