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Japan squandered a two-goal lead and had to settle for a share of the spoils after a 2-2 draw with Latvia in the first of two international friendlies in Riga on Saturday.

News photoJapan forward Atsushi Yanagisawa shoots in the first half of an international friendly match against Latvia Saturday in Riga. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.

Japan looked to be on its way to a comfortable win on the Baltic coast thanks to an early blockbuster from Naohiro Takahara and a second-half penalty from Shunsuke Nakamura.

Vits Rimkus reduced the deficit in the 67th minute, but Japan still looked to have done enough to claim victory in the first meeting between the two countries until Andrejs Rubins pounced on an error from Koji Nakata to seal a late comeback for the home side.

“We had a great first half and at 2-0 up I was surprised at the amount of errors we made after that,” said Japan coach Zico.

“When you make mistakes it gives the other team a lift and I am really disappointed because this was a game could have won,” shrugged the Brazilian. “But we just have to regroup and prepare for our next match.”

Zico made a few changes to the side that beat Honduras 5-4 in Miyagi last month and handed Daisuke Matsui his first national team start.

Matsui replaced Shinji Ono, who was rested due to a swollen toe in his right foot, and the Le Mans midfielder made his presence felt as Japan strolled in the autumn sunshine in the opening stages at Skonto Stadium.

Japan stunned home fans when Takahara grabbed his second goal in as many games after five minutes.

Captain Hidetoshi Nakata headed into the path of Takahara and the Hamburg SV striker let fly with a screamer from fully 30 meters that left Aleksandrs Kolinko flapping at thin air.

Atsushi Yanagisawa twice went close and Nakamura stung Kolinko’s palms with a low effort on 15 minutes.

Latvia won a series of free-kicks but failed to test Yoichi Doi until the 36th minute, the FC Tokyo custodian saving well from Dynamo Kiev striker Maris Verpakovskis.

The home side did have the ball in the net moments earlier, but the goal was ruled out after referee Jaceks Granats had spotted an infringement.

Japan started where it left off in the second half and Nakamura put the team two goals to the good from the spot in the 52nd minute.

Yanagisawa, whose pace troubled the Latvians all game, was bundled over in the box and Nakamura buried the ball into the right-hand corner.

Substitute Rimkus gave Latvia hope when he prodded home following a corner and Rubins capitalized on a suicidal pass from Nakata to equalize in the 89th minute.

“This was a friendly and as you saw we used different tactics in each half. I gave a number of young players a chance and I’m pleased with the way we did,” said Latvia coach Jurijs Andrejevs.

“In the second half we pushed, were more physical and were able to stop the Japanese technicians.”

Japan depart for Kiev to play Ukraine on Wednesday, when Latvia visit Portugal in Porto for a World Cup qualifier in European Group 3.

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