NIIGATA – The United Arab Emirates stunned Japan with a goal from virtually its only attack of the game to claim a 1-1 friendly-match draw on Thursday night.
Japan dominated the game from the first whistle, and only wasteful finishing made Takeshi Okada’s side wait 72 minutes before substitute Shinji Kagawa broke the deadlock with his first international goal, less than a minute after coming on at Niigata’s Big Swan Stadium.
But Ismail Alhammadi rifled an unlikely equalizer past Seigo Narazaki five minutes later to suddenly make a game of it, and Kagawa missed two late chances to deny Japan a morale-boosting win ahead of next Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan.
Okada bemoaned his side’s failure in front of goal, but praised Kagawa and debutant Shinzo Koroki for the impact they made coming off the bench.
“We put the pressure on in the second half, and that worked to a degree,” he said. “We made chances at the end but couldn’t finish them, and that is disappointing.
“The young players who played their first game today did well and passed the test. You never know what’s going to happen in football, so there’s not much that can be done about their goal. Whatever happens, the players are fired up for the Uzbekistan game.”
Okada deployed an attacking lineup, handing Shimizu S-Pulse’s Shinji Okazaki a debut up front alongside Keiji Tamada and Yoshito Okubo, while Eintracht Frankfurt’s Junichi Inamoto returned in midfield for his first national team appearance since September 2007.
The combination almost paid dividends as Tamada linked with Okazaki to win an early free-kick on the edge of the box, but UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser had little trouble dealing with Shunsuke Nakamura’s curling effort.
Atsuto Uchida blazed over the bar before Okazaki failed to capitalize on a cleverly disguised pass from Nakamura, and Shuhei Terada went even closer when he headed a Makoto Hasebe free-kick just wide after 25 minutes.
With Nakamura roaming the pitch, Hasebe and Inamoto were finding enough gaps to charge forward with the ball at their feet. But too few players appeared to be on the same wavelength, and Okubo deepened Japan’s frustration when he miscued a simple pass with Tamada running through on goal minutes before halftime.
A foul on Okubo gave Nakamura another chance with a free-kick after the restart, but Naser again denied the Celtic playmaker with a good diving save.
Less than 10 minutes later, Okubo missed the chance of the match. Tamada set off on a galloping run down the right flank, before pulling the ball back to his strike partner waiting unmarked in front of goal.
With just a shot on target needed to seal the deal, the Vissel Kobe man sent the ball spinning harmlessly over the bar as Tamada slumped to the ground in disbelief.
Substitute Koroki had a penalty claim turned down after making a lively start to his debut, and the 22-year-old inadvertently set up Japan’s opener in the 72nd minute when he sent a header crashing against the post. Uchida picked up the rebound, before squaring it to Kagawa to knock into the net.
But Alhammadi silenced the home crowd when he picked up the ball outside the box five minutes after the restart, before cracking a drive that took a deflection and flew past Narazaki.
Kagawa had a chance to edge Japan back in front with 10 minutes of the match remaining, and an even better one with time ticking further away, but a lack of composure in front of goal crept back into the home side’s game and UAE held on to share the spoils.