BRUSSELS – Japan wrapped up 2013 on a high with a 3-2 away victory over World Cup dark horses Belgium in a friendly on Tuesday.
Yoichiro Kakitani scored a goal and set up another for the Asian champions, who managed to improve on their impressive 2-2 draw with the Netherlands on Saturday.
Keisuke Honda, who proved critical to the win against the world’s fifth-ranked side, and substitute Shinji Okazaki also netted for Alberto Zaccheroni’s side.
Everton’s Kevin Mirallas and Toby Alderweireld of Atletico Madrid struck for Marc Wilmots’ men, who never lost in 10 games during their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Japan, which reached the round of 16 in South Africa, plays just once before next summer’s World Cup in March against opponents yet to be determined.
The final draw for Brazil will be held Dec. 6.
“I was really pleased with our performance,” Zaccheroni said. “If we didn’t play well, we couldn’t have beaten a team of Belgium’s caliber.”
“This is the kind of experience we were hoping to gain by playing in Europe. I hope we can keep this up all the way to the World Cup.”
Said Kakitani, “I’m really glad we won because that’s all I was hoping for. I’m genuinely happy with the goal; I felt like I owed the team because I haven’t been scoring as of late.”
Zaccheroni shuffled his lineup for the second straight game, dropping both fullbacks — Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida — for the two Sakais, Gotoku and Hiroki.
The Italian also replaced central defender Yasuyuki Konno with Masato Morishige, and reinstalled Shinji Kagawa and Kakitani for Okazaki and Yuya Osako, respectively. First-choice goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was back in as well for Shusaku Nishikawa.
Mirallas opened the scoring for the hosts on the quarter-hour, exploiting a horrendous defensive mix-up by Japan that saw Kawashima drift out to the touchline to leave his goal completely unprotected.
Gotoku Sakai ran for cover, but never saw Mirallas homing in on a cross from Romelu Lukaku before hitting into an empty net.
The visitors, though, leveled in the 37th minute through Kakitani, who headed in a right-wing cross from Hiroki Sakai. In the last minute of the half, Kakitani set up captain Makoto Hasebe for a stinging effort that Simon Mignolet barely kept out to maintain parity before halftime.
Japan moved in front eight minutes into the second half through Honda, who pounced on a horizontal pass from substitute Yasuhito Endo with his weaker right foot.
In the 63rd minute, the world’s 44th-ranked team went 3-1 up when Okazaki, who had come off the bench at the break, struck thanks to Kakitani’s creativity.
The Belgians closed the gap in the 79th minute through Alderweireld’s header from a corner, but Japan held on for a morale-boosting victory.
Hasebe was convinced Japan is on the right track toward Brazil.
“It’s good we’ve been able to put together some decent results,” the Nuremburg man said. “I’m sure we’re headed in the right direction.
“The competition for places is definitely helping the team, and it’s something I welcome. We need it for the team to keep getting better.”
Added Honda, “I’ve always been saying how important it is for us to play away from home. We conceded twice, but we didn’t give up a third and that meant a lot to us.”
“We just have to go back to our clubs and try to improve individually from hereon.”
“Japan was quick and strong and it gave us trouble,” defender Daniel van Buyten said.
Midfielder Steven Defour added: “We will have to work on our weak points and make them better in time for the World Cup.”
Brazil edges Chile
Hulk and Robinho scored to lift Brazil to a 2-1 victory over Chile in a friendly on Tuesday, a game that was both part of World Cup preparations and a spirited match between two South American teams.
Hulk scored in the 14th minute, the goal coming after Oscar intercepted a pass out of Chile’s backfield. Oscar sent a long cross to Hulk, who launched a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Robinho gave the Brazilians the lead in the 80th minute when he headed in a perfectly placed goalmouth cross from Maicon.
Eduardo Vargas scored Chile’s goal in the 71st minute, taking a short pass from Jean Beausejour and launching a long shot that tucked just inside the left corner, catching Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar flat-footed.