Japanese skills too crisp for Samoa

In the first major surprise of the AFL International Cup, the Samurai from Japan defeated the might of Samoa. Truthfully it was always a possibility that Japan could upset the AFL's seeding in this match, but to do so relatively comfortably, by 4 goals, was somewhat unexpected. It must rank as their best international win, and they certainly celebrated like it was.

Unfortunately for Samoa the loss is likely to condemn them to positions 9 to 12 come the end of the competition, unless they can pull off the biggest upset in International Cup history and roll the Kiwis in their next match, in Warrnambool. Japan will be looking to mix it with some of the top sides, assuming they get the business done against India, a match which should be far less physical than today's.

Early on the game went to script - a tight tussle with the Japanese quick but not getting into space as the Samoans tackled hard and maintained the pressure. But the ball spent a lot of time in Japan's forward line, and throughout the match former Essendon trainees Michito Sakaki and Tsuyoshi Kase were key players. Kase swept off half-back to propel the Samurai forward, and their skilful midfield consistently brought the ball down the wing then switched back to Sakaki in the centre.

The main thing stopping Japan from pouring on the score was the Fia Too-too show. On track to again be one of the players of the tournament, big Fia is heavier than three years ago but still moved well and almost did as he pleased - with some notable exceptions when his evasion and palm-offs ("don't argue") were held up by tenacious tackles.

At quarter time the Kangaroos held a 1 point lead and it looked like a very tight match was looming. But the second quarter sent the mostly pro-Japan crowd into a frenzy, as the game was broken open by three Samurai goals to nil. Costly for Samoa was a string of free kicks for high contact and pushes in the back. None were malicious, but the bigger Samoan bodies crashing in, often guys with little Aussie Rules experience, continually gave Japan the ball. To their credit the Samurai never shirked the issue - if they had they would not have won. Head down they used some handball and a lot of short kicks, working quickly into space and accepting the sore head or back.

One goal each in the third and 2 goals to 1.2 in the last meant Japan eased out to their finest win, by 24 points.

The Samoans showed plenty of promise. They were strong at the contest, they don't lack pace despite their strong bodies, and they have some great evasive skills. But too many players don't have enough time in football and ultimately they couldn't string together enough good possessions to kick a winning score in fine conditions. Hopefully some of the new players can stay in the AFL Samoa system for a few years and realise their potential.

Adding salt into the wound for the Samoans was the report of Senetenari Faalelei for striking Jun Sekiguchi by one of the umpires. He was suspended for one match, something the Roos can ill afford with a small squad and injuries mounting.

Samoa
Goal Kickers: S. Faalelei, E. Masaga, J. Matualoto, F. Too-Too
Best Players: E. Masaga, F. Too-Too, J. Matualoto, T. Sale Pao, S. Faalelei, S. Sale
Japan
Goal Kickers: T. Mori 4, T. Kase, Y. Saito, M. Sakaki, S. Yamaguchi
Best Players: T. Kase, H. Tohyama, Y. Saito, S. Yokoyama, T. Mori, M. Sakaki

Samoa Japan
2.1 (13) 1/4 2.0 (12)
2.1 (13) 1/2 5.6 (36)
3.5 (23) 3/4 6.7 (43)
4.7 (31) Full 8.8 (56)




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