SEOUL – Yoichiro Kakitani and Masato Kudo both marked their Japan debuts with a goal, but Samurai Blue squandered a two-goal advantage and were held to a 3-3 draw by China in their East Asian Cup opener in South Korea on Sunday night.
Wang Yongpo fired China into an early lead from the penalty spot, but Yuzo Kurihara leveled with a header into the top corner and Kakitani struck just before the hour before setting up Kudo to make it 3-1 at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Wang converted from the spot for a second time, though, and Japan were unable to withstand intense late pressure as Sun Ke struck with three minutes left.
“The humid heat didn’t help us. Our opponents were physical and we wanted to try and overcome that with our speed and technique but they were not easy to beat,” said Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
“We conceded a penalty and fell behind and did brilliantly to come back and take the lead but it is a shame Kakitani could not get us a fourth goal.”
Zaccheroni named an experimental squad for the tournament, which falls outside the FIFA calendar, and called up several J-League players up for the first time.
Cerezo Osaka’s Kakitani started alone up front, Kudo of Kashiwa Reysol and Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Yojiro Takahagi were also among six players in the starting lineup making their debuts.
The Asian champions, however, got off to a nightmare start and fell behind after five minutes. Kurihara bundled Yu Dabao over in the box and Wang swept home the ensuing penalty.
Japan’s first chance arrived on 19 minutes as Takahagi fed Kudo on the right. Kudo sent the ball into the box but Genki Haraguchi’s volley was too close to China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
Kurihara, however, atoned for conceding the penalty with the equalizer on 33 minutes. China failed to properly clear their lines from Takahagi’s corner and Kudo’s header from the left side of the six-yard box set up Kurihara for his third national team goal.
China should have gone into the break in front but Shusaku Nishikawa pulled off a fabulous save in the 42nd minute, tipping Yu’s shot around the post after he had been put clean through by a clever pass from Gao Lin.
Japan took control in the second half and Kakitani opened his account by glancing home Tomoaki Makino’s inviting cross in the 59th minute and then picked out Kudo to steer home first time straight after the restart.
Kakitani had a chance to put the game out of reach but his touch let him down and Zeng made the save.
Wang hit the bar for China and scored his second penalty of the game after Japan captain Yuichi Komano was adjudged to have fouled Zhang Xizhe. China’s late pressure paid off as Sun rounded off the scoring with a volley at the far post.
Japan play Australia on Thursday before meeting bitter rivals and hosts South Korea on Sunday.
South Korea drew 0-0 with Australia in the opening game of the men’s tournament on Saturday.