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Japan and South Korea played to a hard-fought scoreless draw in an U-23 friendly on Wednesday in a warm-up for next month’s tournament at the Athens Olympics.

News photoYoshito Okubo of JAPAN shoots against South Korea during their U-23 friendly match on Wednesday in Seoul. The teams drew 0-0.

South Korea failed to capitalize on a number of scoring opportunities as the Japanese defense, marshaled by Brazilian-born Marcus Tulio Tanaka, held out in their first meeting since the Japanese won 2-0 in Osaka in a friendly in February.

“The match proved to be really hard. It’s always like that between Japan and South Korea,” Japan Olympic team coach Masakuni Yamamoto said. “It’s a shame we did not score a goal but the players showed their fighting spirit to the end.”

The home side enjoyed the bulk of possession from early on and came close to scoring when playmaker Choi Tae Uk forced a one-handed save from Japan goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata after seven minutes.

Japan withstood the early onslaught and threatened the South Korean goal with a 15th-minute header from Daisuke Nasu that went straight into the arms of ‘keeper Kim Yong Kwan.

Japan’s best goalscoring chance came three minutes later when Yoshito Okubo broke free on the right and his cross met Tatsuya Tanaka, but a free header from the Urawa Reds striker went just wide of the post.

The South Korean pressure grew stronger in the second half.

Japan-based skipper Yoo Sang Chul, an over-age player called up for the Olympics, had a shot blocked by the defense just in front of the goal line and a close-range angled shot from Park Kyu Sun failed to beat Sogahata in the first quarter hour.

Deep in stoppage time, midfielder Kim Doo Hyun saw a shot from inside the box sail well over the crossbar, the last opportunity to break open a tenacious Japanese defense.

The South Korean U-23s have not conceded a goal in nine games since their loss to Japan in Osaka.

Japan is drawn with Paraguay, Italy and Ghana in Group B in the men’s Olympic tournament in Athens, which begins Aug. 11.

South Korea will meet hosts Greece, Mali and Mexico in Group A.

Qatar held

BEIJING (Kyodo) Substitute Mohamed Hubail scored a dramatic late equalizer as Bahrain held troubled Qatar to a 1-1 draw in Group A at the Asian Cup on Wednesday.

A day after announcing it no longer required the services of French coach Philippe Troussier, Qatar looked to have got its Asian Cup campaign back on track with three points when midfielder Wesam Rizik converted a 59th-minute penalty at Beijing Workers’ Stadium.

But intense pressure from Bahrain paid off in the dying seconds when Hubail, who scored in his side’s opening draw with host China, sent a dipping header beyond Qasem Burhan.

Bahrain has two points from two matches while Qatar, which must face China in its last match, looks to be on its way out of the tournament after losing to Indonesia 2-1 on Sunday.

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