TOYOTA, AICHI PREF. – Japan lost back-to-back games for the first time under Alberto Zaccheroni as the Asian champion was beaten 2-0 by Bulgaria in a World Cup qualifying tuneup on Thursday evening.
Bulgaria produced a solid display to win, behind an early Stanislav Manolev free kick and a second-half own goal by Japan captain Makoto Hasebe.
Japan, which was coming off a shock 2-1 away defeat at the hands of Jordan in March, hosts Australia on Tuesday at Saitama. A draw would make it the world’s first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“This was a test for our next World Cup qualifiers against Australia and Iraq and it is disappointing that we could not give all the fans that came here to support us a good performance,” said Zaccheroni.
“It might have only been a friendly, but we could not seem to find any rhythm.”
Zaccheroni again experimented with a 3-4-3 lineup but dropped the formation after just one half as his team was down at the intermission.
Japan conceded in the third minute, when Southampton defender Maya Yoshida gave away a free kick 25 meters out, along the inside left channel.
Manolev hit straight at Eiji Kawashima, but the ball skipped off the rain-slick fists of the Standard Liege goalkeeper and into the net as Japan got off to a less-than-stellar start at Toyota Stadium.
The Bulgarians kept Kawashima on his toes, calling him into action in the 21st and 30th minutes when Yordan Minev and Vladimir Gadzhev pulled the trigger, respectively.
Zaccheroni went to the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 for the second half when he brought on five players off the bench — Yuto Nagatomo, Hiroki Sakai, Hiroshi Kiyotake, Kengo Nakamura and Mike Havenaar.
Japan linked better but couldn’t finish better and despite only arriving in the country two days ago, Bulgaria managed the game with composure to stay on top.
In the 70th minute, the visitors doubled their lead from substitute Hristo Zlatinski’s curling right-wing free kick, which went into the net off Hasebe’s foot.
The two-goal advantage was more than enough for Bulgaria to close out the victory, which will give Japan plenty to ponder over the next five days.
“It is a real disappointment that we lost,” said Hasebe. “We just have to regroup and try and fix some of the things that went wrong over the next few days. I scored an own goal and we have to work on set pieces in particular.”
Added Shinji Kagawa: “In the first half we created a good shape but we lost and it is disappointing. It means nothing if you create chances but don’t take them.”