OITA – A disciplined defensive effort from Venezuela frustrated Japan’s bid to win its first home game in World Cup year in a 0-0 draw on Tuesday.
The friendly against the South Americans marked the start of a four-match series of World Cup warmups this month, providing players on the fringes of Takeshi Okada’s squad to state their case for inclusion in the final 23-man group in this summer’s finals in South Africa.
But there were few bright spots in a game watched by a disappointing crowd of just 27,009 at Kyushu Oil Dome, although Japan coach Okada was generally pleased with his side’s performance ahead of the East Asian championship in Tokyo.
“It is a pity that we could not win but Venezuela really gave us a game and put us under pressure,” said Okada. “But it is our first game of the season (with first-team regulars) and it was a good experience.”
“We got better in the second half and I think we can head into the East Asian championship in good spirits. I could test a lot of players and think it was a good game.”
Venezuela, also fielding an under-strength team, carved out the first clear opportunity but Seigo Narazaki was well positioned at his near post to gather Fernando Aristiguieta’s 10th-minute header.
Mitsuo Ogasawara almost marked his return from the international wilderness with a goal on 16 minutes, the Kashima Antlers captain drawing a flying save from Leonardo Morales from 20 meters, before Venezuela again went close when Alejandro Moreno headed Jose Manuel Rey’s free kick just wide of the mark.
Yoshito Okubo hit the side netting and Ogasawara also tried his luck again from distance early in the second half, but although Okada made a rash of substitutions after the midway point of the second half to try and prize an opening, the home side never really looked like making a breakthrough.
“Today we can take positives from the fact that we didn’t lose,” said Japan midfielder Junichi Inamoto. “We can also head into the next game knowing what we have to put right.”
Okada’s men open the East Asian tournament against China on Saturday at Ajinomoto Stadium. They face Hong Kong on Feb. 11 at National Stadium before wrapping up the tournament against South Korea at the same venue on Feb. 14.