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Tanaka rescues point for Japan at East Asian championship

Kyodo

Tatsuya Tanaka struck his first national team goal as a weakened Japan avoided another shock by coming from two goals down to draw 2-2 against China at the East Asian championship in South Korea on Wednesday.

News photoJapan midfielder Shinji Murai passes through Chinese players during the first half of their
East Asian Championship match Wednesday at Daejeon, South Korea. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.

China led 2-0 at halftime and goals from Li Jin Yu and Zhang Yonghai looked to have done enough to avenge defeat in last year’s Asian Cup final in Beijing.

But defender Teruyuki Moniwa pulled one back in the 58th minute and Tanaka, who sparkled in his first start for the Asian champions, smashed home a superb equalizer with three minutes left to keep Japan’s slim hopes of its first East Asian title alive.

North Korea, which plays host South Korea in their second game on Thursday, leads the group with three points with China in second on two. South Korea and Japan have a point each.

Japan coach Zico decided to start with a completely different starting lineup to the one that suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to North Korea on Sunday.

Shinji Murai, Yasuyuki Konno and Yuichi Komano were all handed their national team debuts while JEF United Chiba’s Seiichiro Maki and Urawa Reds’ Tanaka, who made their first appearances as substitutes on Sunday, started up front.

Tanaka looked lively in the opening stages and crossed for Maki to knock just wide after nine minutes before Konno headed straight at China ‘keeper Li Leilei.

Yuki Abe’s curling free kick hit the side netting but China went closest to taking the lead in the 29th minute when Gao Lin forced a smart save from Seigo Narazaki at his near post.

The Chinese broke the deadlock with a well-taken finish from Li Jin Yu in the 37th minute. Zhao Xuri muscled Masashi Motoyama off the ball and sent a low cross for Li to beat Narazaki with a diving header.

Li Leilei denied Moniwa and Motoyama as Japan looked to hit back but China doubled its lead as Zhang Yonghai rose to head home a free kick from Wang Liang.

Japan came out with a renewed sense of urgency and reduced the arrears just before the hour mark.

Li Leilei could only parry a free kick from Abe and Moniwa reacted quickest and buried the rebound with a stooping header.

Zico brought on fresh legs and replaced Motoyama and Maki with Keiji Tamada and Masashi Oguro but Japan had to wait until three minutes from time to find a way through as Tanaka beat Li Leilei with a rasping shot from 20 meters.

“We went 2-0 down and could have made life easier for ourselves if we had taken our chances. But I thought the players reacted to the situation well and showed a battling spirit to the end,” said Zico.

Japan wraps up the round-robin East Asian tournament against bitter rival South Korea on Sunday.