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Japan, Venezuela play to draw

Kyodo

Japan could only muster a first-half goal by centurion Yasuhito Endo as the Asian champions settled for a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifying tune-up with Venezuela at Sapporo Dome on Wednesday.

Alberto Zaccheroni’s side, on top of Group B with seven points from three matches in the final qualifiers, host former Japan coach Zico’s Iraq on Sept. 11 after facing the United Arab Emirates on Sept. 6 in another friendly in Niigata.

“They played us well, wouldn’t let us play our game,” Keisuke Honda said. “We’ve got to train harder so we can win the next time out.”

Zaccheroni tweaked his defense, with defenders Yasuyuki Konno, Atsuto Uchida and Yuzo Kurihara all suspended for the Iraq game at Saitama Stadium.

Vissel Kobe’s Masahiko Inoha started alongside Maya Yoshida in the center of defense with World Cup right-back Yuichi Komano also in the first team and Yuto Nagatomo on the left.

Venezuela are far from being a household name in world soccer but have risen in recent years, reaching the semifinals of last year’s Copa America.

Under 39-year-old coach Cesar Farias, the visitors showed why they have progressed, giving a near full-strength Japan team the test it needed to prepare for Iraq.

Venezuela created some decent chances throughout the 90 minutes and had it not been for the reliable hands of Eiji Kawashima, could have even embarrassed the home side.

Japan was first to reach the scoreboard in the 15th minute, as Komano breached the defense to set up Endo who netted his 10th international strike in 119 appearances from the heart of the penalty area.

The Venezuelans equalized two minutes past the hour through Nicolas Fedor, who turned on Kawashima to score from close range after a cross by substitute Josef Martinez.

Japan had enough opportunities to win but lacked accuracy in front of goal — Shinji Kagawa hit the bar of an empty net in the 75th minute — as the two teams shared the spoils before a crowd of almost 40,000.