PARIS – Shinji Kagawa struck in the dying minutes as Japan defeated France for the first time 1-0 at the Stade de France on Friday night.
In the 88th minute on a counterattack led by Yasuyuki Konno, Manchester United midfielder Kagawa finished off a cross by Yuto Nagatomo to give Japan its first win against Les Bleus in six meetings.
Previously, Japan had lost four and drawn once to France. The two teams last played at the 2003 Confederations Cup where the French won 2-1.
“It was a team effort,” Kagawa said. “I just happened to be the one who scored from a great counter made by the entire team.”
Kagawa, though, said Japan still has a lot of catching up to do with the elite in world soccer.
The Asian champions had a quiet first half and had it not been for another outstanding performance in goal by Eiji Kawashima, could have been embarrassed by the hosts, who only played Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema for the first half and Bayern Munich’s majestic Franck Ribery the last 20 minutes.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s side next plays Brazil — another team Japan has yet to beat — on Tuesday in Wroclaw, Poland, to wrap up its European tour.
“We’ve got to do much better,” Kagawa said. “Every player on the team has to play with more confidence. They could have had us because there were moments when we were completely exposed.”
“(Brazil) are a more technical side than the team we played today. But I think we can be encouraged by the fact that our defense didn’t concede, even though we were on our heels for large parts of the game.”
Japan fought an uphill battle with Keisuke Honda, nursing a bruised right calf, on the bench and first-choice striker Ryoichi Maeda having been shipped home earlier in the week also with injury.
“It’s a very good result,” Zaccheroni said. “We were a bit shy in the first half but I thought we came out of our shell in the second.
“We moved the ball around well, found space and had some good moments.”
Spain routs Belarus
World and European champion Spain romped to a 24th straight qualifying win on Friday, although no one in the country was able to see it.
Pedro Rodriguez scored a hat trick as the world’s best team routed host Belarus 4-0 in one of a group of big wins for Europe’s leading nations in 2014 World Cup qualifying.
Yet celebrations were muted in the debt-ridden country after no broadcaster paid to televise the national team’s match for the first time in 29 years.
Spain’s wasn’t the most convincing win of the third round of regional qualifiers, with Germany handing Ireland its worst loss since 1971, 6-1 at Dublin.
Wayne Rooney celebrated being handed the temporary England captaincy by scoring twice in a routine 5-0 win over San Marino, taking his goal total in international matches to 31, fifth on the country’s all-time list.
But Italy was again unconvincing in beating Armenia 3-1, and the Netherlands managed only a comfortable 3-0 win over Andorra, which is 201st in the rankings.
However, Euro 2012 semifinalist Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, couldn’t make the most of its dominance against Russia and lost 1-0 in a match between the top two teams in Group F.
Belgium enhanced its burgeoning reputation as a growing force in Europe with a 3-0 win in Serbia.