HIROSHIMA – Takayuki Suzuki and Atsushi Yanagisawa both scored second-half goals as Japan defeated Slovakia 3-1 in the opening game of the three-nation Kirin Cup on Friday evening.
Jubilo Iwata midfielder Takashi Fukunishi headed Japan into the lead on the stroke of halftime only for Peter Babnic to silence the home fans at Hiroshima Big Arch with an equalizer for the visitors in the 65th minute.
But Kashima striker Suzuki, starting in place of injured Tatsuhiko Kubo, hit back seconds later and former club teammate Yanagisawa came off the bench to seal the win in the first of two warmup games for the upcoming Asian Cup.
Playing its first match since walloping India 7-0 last month in a World Cup qualifier, Japan was missing a host of first-team regulars including Feyenoord midfielder Shinji Ono and Bologna playmaker Hidetoshi Nakata.
Zico’s second-string side enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the early stages but Suzuki and strike partner Keiji Tamada were unable to make any inroads in the final third of the pitch.
Italian-based midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura saw a 30-meter free-kick flash over the crossbar after five minutes but almost gifted Slovakia the opener shortly before the interval.
Peter Kiska dispossessed Nakamura deep in Japan territory and unleashed a powerful drive but goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi reacted smartly to tip the ball over the crossbar.
But Japan responded almost immediately and made the breakthrough when Fukunishi made amends for a series of schoolboy errors by rising to nod home a Nakamura corner.
Babnic pulled the Slovakians back into the game when he powered home a corner from Igor Zofcak but straight after the restart Nakamura found Suzuki, who rounded the Slovakia ‘keeper and tucked the ball into the far corner.
Yanagisawa, who has just joined newly promoted Serie A side Messina, rounded off the scoring when he capitalized on some poor defending to score his 13th international goal.
“Our players kept their attacking spirit throughout the match and kept their composure after conceding the equalizer,” Zico said.
“Those who stood in for the missing players showed a strong desire to win a regular place in the team. It was a good game.”
Japan plays Serbia-Montenegro in Yokohama on Tuesday before kicking off its defense of the Asian Cup against Oman in China on July 20.
The Serbians and Slovakia meet in Fukuoka in the second Kirin Cup match on Sunday.
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