NIIGATA – Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima delivered an inspired performance as Japan shared a goalless draw with Peru in the opening game of the Kirin Cup in Niigata on Wednesday night.
Peru had the better of the chances in an entertaining match at Big Swan, but Kawashima pulled off a string of fine saves to help preserve coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s unbeaten record.
“We had a different lineup to what we have been playing until now and I had the chance to look at new players,” said Zaccheroni.
“We were better in the second half and I think that we can take positives from this game,” said the Italian.
The Czechs meet Peru in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, on Saturday before playing Japan in the final game of the three-nation exhibition tournament in Yokohama on June 7.
Wednesday’s game was Japan’s first international since lifting the Asian Cup for a record fourth time in Qatar in January.
Zaccheroni handed Kashima Antlers midfielder Daigo Nishi his debut in an experimental starting lineup. CSKA Moscow star Keisuke Honda and Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo started on the bench, having only arrived back in Japan on Tuesday along with VVV Venlo defender Maya Yoshida.
World Cup captain Makoto Hasebe fashioned a couple of half chances for the Blue Samurai, but Peru went closest to breaking the deadlock near the half-hour mark when Adan Bablin unleashed a dipping effort that brought the best out of Kawashima.
Honda was given a rousing reception when he emerged from the tunnel to start the second half in place of Nishi and he nearly responded with a free kick that fizzed just off target on 56 minutes.
The South Americans piled on the pressure late on but could not find a way past Kawashima, who pulled off a great save from Yoshimar Yotun and a pair of other solid stops as the visitors pressed for a winner.
The friendlies serve as warmups ahead of Japan’s qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup beginning in September. Japan wraps up its preparations with a meeting with archrival South Korea in August.
The Czech Republic and Peru have made the trip after being given safety assurances amid an ongoing nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeastern coastline.
Also Wednesday, Nagoya Grampus striker Kensuke Nagai scored twice as Japan’s Under-22s came from behind to beat their Australian counterparts 3-1 in their final warmup ahead of their Asian qualifying campaign for next year’s London Olympics.