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Japanese exports to Europe get off to a flying start

© Reuters 2002

By Alastair Himmer

TOKYO, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Japan midfielders Junichi Inamoto and Shinji Ono have made an immediate impact on the new European season, scoring crucial goals in midweek matches to prompt gushing headlines in the Japanese newspapers.

Inamoto, who joined English club Fulham on a one-year loan last month, scored with a wonderful solo effort as the premier league outfit side 2-2 at Bologna in the first leg of the Intertoto Cup final on Tuesday. Ono, in his second season with Feyenoord, snatched the winner as the Dutch club beat Turkish side Fenerbahce 1-0 in Rotterdam in a Champions League qualifier on the same day.

For Inamoto, his 62nd minute strike will have vindicated his decision to stay in England after a frustrating year in the reserves at Arsenal.

The 22-year-old was released by the English champions in June despite seizing the spotlight at the World Cup, when he scored in the 2-2 draw with Belgium and the 1-0 win over Russia to help the co-hosts finish top of group H.

To his credit, Inamoto has learned to ignore the sort of "Wonder Boy" headlines that greeted his latest heroics on the Japanese sports pages on Thursday.

"You can't compare tonight's goal with the one against Belgium. I always thought I was a slow starter, though, so it was nice to score," he said.

"But it was more important for the team not to lose than for me to get on the score sheet." Ono, meanwhile, had his own reasons for wanting to make a quick impression after a disappointing World Cup.

In contrast to Inamoto, who blossomed at the World Cup after a miserable season at club level, Ono surpassed expectations in his first campaign in Europe, playing a key role as Feyenoord won the UEFA Cup for the second time in their history.

But despite the pre-tournament hype, the 22-year-old was forced to take medication for abdominal pains during the World Cup and was a peripheral figure for the co-hosts throughout. It was little surprise when Ono had his appendix removed after Japan lost 1-0 to Turkey in the second round of the tournament.

His speedy return to form will be a welcome boost for Feyenoord manager Bert van Marwijk as his team pushes for a place in the main draw of the Champions League and attempts to dethrone Ajax on the domestic front this season.

It also augers well for Japan's new coach Zico, who will be hoping that playmaker Hidetoshi Nakata can hold down a first-team place this season and justify the $26 million price tag Parma paid AS Roma for his services last summer.

Meanwhile, Shunsuke Nakamura - Japan's fourth European export - will be desperate to impress Zico at his new club Reggina after being left out of the World Cup squad by former Japan coach Philippe Troussier. Inamoto and Ono, permanent fixtures in the Japan team under Troussier, have got their reminders to the Brazilian in early.

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