• Kyodo

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Japan made the worst possible start to its preparations for next month’s crucial World Cup qualifiers after being stunned 1-0 by a weakened Peru side in the opening match of the annual Kirin Cup tournament Sunday.

News photoPeru defender Portilla and Japan’s Yasuhito Endo battle for the ball during Sunday’s Kirin Cup
match at Niigata Stadium.

Despite dominating most of the match at Niigata Stadium Big Swan, Japan lacked a cutting edge in front of goal and was punished when substitute Gustavo Enrique Vassallo raced home to fire the winner deep into stoppage time.

“We were at home and had the support behind us so naturally Peru were going to hang back and look for the counterattack and that’s just what we expected,” said Japan coach Zico.

“We made many chances but the accuracy of the finishing wasn’t there and we didn’t get the goal and at the finish we were beaten on the break. What we need now is not something wholly different. We made the chances and we must take them when we get them,” he added.

Missing the creative spark of Euro stars Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura, Japan looked bereft of ideas despite enjoying the better of a tepid first half and failed to muster a shot on target until the 39th minute.

Veteran Atsuhiro Miura, in for injured Akira Kaji, was one of Japan’s brighter sparks and he awoke Juan Angel Flores from his siesta with a long-range effort that the Peru goalkeeper beat away to safety.

Zico had opted to start Takayuki Suzuki and Keiji Tamada up front despite the sparkling recent form of Masashi Oguro, but both were largely ineffective and Peru’s towering defense dealt comfortably with a string of aimless high balls into the box.

Peru, whose squad was made up solely of domestic-based players looking to impress new manager Freddy Ternero, was equally uninventive with Japan ‘keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi merely a spectator for most of the first period.

The visitor, however, went close to opening the scoring just after the break when Kawaguchi was forced into a smart save from Miguel Angel Mostto and Miura was on hand to clear off the line from the resultant corner.

Zico brought a huge cheer from the crowd when he brought on Oguro for Tamada eight minutes after the interval and Gamba Osaka’s league-leading scorer won a freekick that Mitsuo Ogasawara flashed just past the post in the 65th minute.

Oguro went desperately close to heading home a freekick from Ogasawara in the 75th minute but Japan was unable to find a way through Peru’s well-marshaled defense.

Disaster struck when Vassallo gave the visitors a smash-and-grab win after he latched onto a through ball and lifted the ball over the onrushing Kawaguchi.

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