TAMPA, FLORIDA – AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda scored twice and Yoshito Okubo grabbed a dramatic late winner on Friday as Japan came from 2-0 down to beat Zambia 4-3 in its final warm-up match for the upcoming World Cup finals.
Goals from Christopher Katongo and Nathan Sinkala put Zambia 2-0 up after 29 minutes at Raymond James Stadium before Honda pulled one back from the penalty spot shortly before halftime. Japan’s four-match winning streak looked to be in jeopardy but Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa leveled on 73 minutes, and Honda slid home two minutes later.
Lubambo Musonda snatched an equalizer in the 89th minute but Okubo had the last word in the 91st.
The Asian champions leave Florida on Saturday morning for Brazil, where they play Cote d’Ivoire in their opening game in Group C in Recife on June 14.
Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni made a few changes to the side that started in Monday’s 3-1 win over Costa Rica, with second-choice goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa being provided with the chance to prove himself.
Yuto Nagatomo came back in at left back while Yasuyuki Konno shifted back to central defense alongside Maya Yoshida. Shinji Okazaki returned and Yoichiro Kakitani started up front.
Yasuhito Endo returned to the starting line up wearing the captain’s armband as Makoto Hasebe attempts to regain fitness, and with the exception of Nishikawa, this side could well be the one that lines up against the Ivorians.
Zambia, ranked 76th in the world, failed to reach the World Cup finals but the 2012 African Cup of Nations winners took a shock lead when Katongo stole in front of Atsuto Uchida to head past Nishikawa after Felix Katongo had flicked on Jimmy Mulilo’s cross.
There was more grief for Japan as Okazaki was left with a bloodied head that needed to be bandaged up after a clash in the 18th minute with Zambia goalkeeper Toaster Nsabata, who required several minutes of treatment by medical staff.
The Africans then doubled their lead just before the half-hour mark as Sinkala steered home first time from the edge of the box after a well worked corner routine.
Japan had only really tested Nsabata once through Nagatomo in the 16th minute, but Zaccheroni’s men pulled one back from the spot through Honda after Emmanuel Mbola had handled Kagawa’s cross.
Zaccheroni’s men ought to have gone in at interval on level terms but Kakitani squandered a great chance to equalize when he put a free header wide of the post just before halftime.
But Kagawa scored for the second game in a row, leveling with a shot from the edge of the box that drifted past Nsabata and Honda slid in to prod home a cross from substitute Masato Morishige.
A deflected effort by Musonda looked to have earned a draw for Zambia but Okubo completed a frantic finale when he controlled and buried a deep pass from Toshihiro Aoyama, who had just come off the bench.
“It was a complete finish,” Okubo said of his sixth career goal for Japan. “You never know what is going to happen right until the end. There are things that need working on but it is good that we can go the finals with a winning habit.”