Japan beat hosts China in East Asian football

CHONGQING, China (AFP) — Chinese fans spared Japan but turned on their own team instead as the hosts went down 1-0 in the East Asian championships here on Wednesday.

Ear-splitting boos erupted in the final minutes and plastic bottles rained down on the pitch as Koji Yamase's early strike proved decisive for Asia's top team.

Local fans, who traditionally give the former colonial power a rough ride, remained unexpectedly quiet during Japan's national anthem and cut out the loud booing that marred their win over North Korea.

Perhaps it had something to do with newspaper articles in local press saying true football fans respect their opponents.

However tempers boiled over towards the end as the crowd chanted "fire him" at China Football Association chief Xie Yalong.

"I knew it would be a tough game but my players fought calmly," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada, whose squad missed Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura and three key strikers including former Frankfurt player Naohiro Takahara because of poor form or injury.

"They fought patiently and produced a result," Okada added.

China's under-pressure Serbian coach Vladimir Petrovic praised his whole squad, including six under-23 players, for "performing aggressively."

"We were a little bit unlucky," he said. "The most important thing is our next World Cup qualifier against Australia (on March 26). I think we will never make the same mistake."

Japan have not lost to China in the past 10 years, and the record rarely looked in danger when Yamase scored from close-range on 17 minutes after Michihiro Yasuda's cross.

However Wang Dong's 25-yard strike cannoned off the right post and Japan lived dangerously in a goalmouth scramble. On 36 minutes, Li Jian miscued a promising header and Du Zhenyu also came close with a floated free-kick.

But Japan were within inches of doubling their lead as Yasuhito Endo's free-kick hit the post before half-time. The midfielder arrowed another dead-ball against the woodwork after the break.

Yamase, who scored twice in last month's friendly against Bosnia, squandered another chance on the hour-mark when he found himself one-on-one with Chinese 'keeper Zong Lei.

Naotake Hanyu also missed an easy chance moments later, and Yuzo Tashiro netted in the closing stages but it was flagged off for offside. Tashiro weaved through the Chinese defence but shot over in injury time, as Chinese fans began to get restless.

China have endured tough times since reaching their only World Cup finals in 2002 and finishing second in the 2004 Asian Cup, a slump highlighted by their first-round exit from last year's edition of the regional showpiece.

Anti-Japanese feeling reached a head after the 2004 final, when thousands of angry fans demonstrated against the visitors.

North Korea and South Korea were to clash later Wednesday in the four-nation round robin.