A much-changed Hong Kong team were comprehensively beaten by Japan in the EAFF Football Championship in Busan, South Korea on Saturday night.
Even with the weekend fixture there were few fans in attendance but those in the stands were treated to a goal-fest by a clinical Japan side.
That this Japan side, made up largely of the under-23 team who will represent the country at the Olympics next summer, are arguably the third-string of their national side gives an indication of the gulf in quality within the region.
Hajime Moriyasu's side ran out 5-0 winners to make it two EAFF wins from two as they prepare for the men's football tournament at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next summer.
Hong Kong manager Mixu Paatelainen had rung several changes for his own side's second game on a rare outing to the regional tournament.
The Finn also picked a more attacking outfit than the team he picked to play the hosts in their opening game on Wednesday, a 2-0 loss, even though Japan had impressed in their own 2-1 win over China.
In came Tse Tak-him for Yapp Hung-fai in goal behind an all local Chinese back four, Li Ngai-hoi among them, while Sandro came in as the sole striker.
The midfield saw four changes with Chen Ching-lung, Ju Yingzhi, Philip Chan and Roberto Affonso brought in for Saturday night.
Paatelainen was disappointed with the result but drew positives from the game.
"Obviously disappointed with that performance today. I also want to give credit to Japan, they played football the way it should be played - sharp, accurate, aggressive. We didn't. We were on our heels unfortunately," said the Finn.
"We have been improving immensely. Man marking situations, defensive situations, in an organised manner. Today was a bad day for us but I take nothing away from Japan. They moved the ball well and they are very, very fast, much quicker than our players, and they were a couple of steps ahead of us today."
"The Japan players play with a tempo which is much, much faster than what our players are used to in the Hong Kong Premier League. The Hong Kong Premier League is not a league where the tempo is of an international standard.
It was not long before Tse was picking the ball out of his goal, although it could have easily come sooner.
While Hong Kong had held the hosts until the stroke of half-time, they fell behind just eight minutes into the game.
The finish was delightful when it came, even if the source was unexpected. It was left-back Daiki Suga who hit a rasping volley into the top corner. Tse had little chance to stop it.
Kyosuke Tagawa was next on the scoresheet just six minutes later before Koki Ogawa added his name to the scorers in the 26th minute and again on the stroke of half-time to make it 4-0 at the interval. It could have been more.
Japan started where they left off after the restart, immediately drawing several corners and a free-kick. It was 5-0 by the 58th minute, with the Mito Hollyhock striker Ogawa sealing his hat-trick. They threatened several more times, substitute Ayase Ueda hitting the post from a diving header and defender Shunta Tanaka heading just wide from a corner, but the score stayed at five.
Japan, who have the youngest squad at the EAFF Finals, had 68 per cent of the ball and hit 16 shots, scoring with five of their seven on target. They also had 12 corners to Hong Kong's zero.
Paatelainen added: "When you look at the goals we conceded today, they were more man-marking errors, players not making sure they were the right side of the (Japan) players when defending crosses and set plays or the back post crosses our players are nowhere where they are meant to be, where we practised and where we agreed they should be. These are purely mental things and we can do these things, we've done them. Today it's not what we did, for one reason or another."
"We made quite a few changes with the line-up as well and perhaps we got some answers on one or two players today. We can defend much better in so many of the goals and avoid them. One thing is for sure Japan plays with a very high tempo and some of our players simply can't cope with it."
They now move on to play the hosts on Wednesday evening in the final game of the tournament. South Korea play their second game against China on Sunday before China and Hong Kong renew their rivalry on Wednesday afternoon.
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