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Junichi Inamoto earned Japan a deserved 2-2 draw in its friendly against Uruguay in front of 54,000 fans at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Friday. His well-taken, second-half equalizer spared Japan’s blushes but left coach Zico still seeking that elusive first win as Japan boss.

Despite his team’s failure to register a win in his third game in charge, Zico will have been impressed by the effort shown by his midfield in particular, which dominated its counterpart throughout the 90 minutes. Inamoto stood out among his peers in this department and his 57th-minute equalizer was just reward for his all-star performance.

“We had a better organized defense than in previous games,” explained Zico. “When we had the ball, we launched attacks very aggressively. We also gave our opponents very few chances.”

Japan opened the game in a confident mood, boasting a midfield and forward line comprised entirely of foreign-based players.

Apart from a few, shaky back-passes by defender Yutaka Akita, Japan looked to have the measure of its opponent in the opening exchanges. The game however, turned on its head in a dramatic five-minute period of play midway through the first half.

A neat exchange of passes between Uruguay captain Alvaro Recoba and Pablo Lima found Manchester United hotshot Diego Forlan in space and he ruthlessly planted a header into the back of the net with his marker Ryuzo Morioka out of position and goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi in no man’s land.

Forlan had barely put his shirt back on when Japan went surging forward and found Takayuki Suzuki in the box with enough space to completely miss the ball with an attempted shot before crashing to the ground as only Suzuki knows how.

His theatrics were enough to convince the referee, who duly pointed to the spot. Up stepped Serie A side Reggina’s penalty taker, Shunsuke Nakamura, who displayed the benefits of regular practice from this position, firing a perfect penalty into the top corner.

Two minutes later Uruguay was gifted a second goal. A harmless cross from the right was inexplicably dropped by Kawaguchi into the path of Alejandro Lembo who gratefully stabbed the ball home.

Kawaguchi was making a show of the rust gathered from spending countless Saturday afternoon’s watching English first division side Portsmouth as a reserve. Kawaguchi hadn’t played for Japan since its embarrassing 3-0 loss to Norway in May last year and may struggle to retain his place this time.

In the 36th minute, Naoki Takahara had a golden chance to get his side back in the game after being put through on goal by fellow striker Suzuki. Unfortunately for him and Japan, Uruguayan goalkeeper Fabian Carini was alert to the danger and smothered the shot.

For all its enterprise in midfield, Japan seemed to be lacking a cohesive link between midfield and attack and to this end Zico opted for some changes. Off went Shinji Ono and Shunsuke Nakamura and on came Alessandro Santos and Koji Nakata.

The moved paid dividends as Santos provided the spark that had otherwise been lacking in Japan’s game. While Nakamura and Ono played solid games — both picking up minor injuries in the process — Zico can count himself fortunate to have the luxury of being able to bring on a player of Santos’ ability. Indeed it was Santos who had a hand in laying on Japan’s second goal. An exchange of passes with Hidetoshi Nakata led to the ball being fed to Inamoto who drilled an unstoppable drive home.

Minutes later Recoba had the crowd on its feet when he curled in a free-kick that nestled onto the roof of the net, creating the illusion of a goal, but in truth this was as close as Uruguay got in the second half.

Having drawn 1-1 with Jamaica and lost 2-0 to Argentina, Zico can take heart from his team’s performance. Certainly without Kawaguchi’s blunder, the team showed enough to have the measure of a competent Uruguay team. Perhaps more importantly, his talented midfield had the opportunity to gel together as a unit and showed the maturity and composure they have gained from playing abroad. With the likes of Mitsuo Ogasawara pushing for a place in the line up, Japan soccer has a lot to look forward to.

Zico refused to be drawn on Kawaguchi’s mistake explaining that any goalkeeper can make a mistake, and instead focused on the positive performance of the team.

“The best part was that the players did not allow their heads to drop after conceding goals and managed to keep their cool. This is a sign of maturity,” he said.

Edmundo packs it in

SAITAMA (Kyodo) The Urawa Reds said Friday newly acquired Brazilian striker Edmundo has left the J. League first division side, claiming he cannot adjust to the team.

The 31-year-old former Brazilian international, who joined Urawa from Tokyo Verdy before the start of the current season, was quoted by Takaji Mori, the team’s general manager, as saying he wants to finish his playing career with a team he feels comfortable with.

“It’s too bad, since the season has just started. But we decided to let him go because it would have a negative effect on the team if he stayed on in that frame of mind,” Mori added.

A recent report in a Brazilian paper indicated Edmundo is hoping to return home.

Edmundo scored 16 goals for Verdy in the first division last season.

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