Japan holds own with Dutch

AP, Kyodo

Japan fought back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against the Netherlands on Saturday in a friendly between two World Cup qualifiers.

Veteran Rafael van der Vaart scored a goal and set up another to give the Netherlands an early lead. But Yuya Osako and Keisuke Honda helped Japan rally with the kind of intricate, sparkling play more associated with the Dutch and was unlucky not to win.

After Van der Vaart’s opener in the 12th minute, Arjen Robben scored the second in the 38th. Japan scored its first ever goal against the Dutch through Osako in the 43rd minute and Honda equalized on the hour.

“They even could have made it 3-2. Fortunately for us, it didn’t happen,” Dutch coach Louis van Gaal said.

The Netherlands plays Colombia in Amsterdam on Tuesday, while Japan moves to Brussels to face Belgium.

Van der Vaart made the most of a poor back header by Maya Yoshida to put the Dutch ahead, rushing in just in time to lift it over goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa for the opener.

Van der Vaart then became provider for fellow veteran Robben, setting the winger free on the right with a volleyed pass. The Bayern Munich forward made his trademark move — cutting inside and curling a left-footer high into the net. Again, Nishikawa had no chance.

While the veterans excelled, most other Dutch players struggled through a clumsy game on a slippery, patchy pitch that laid bare some basic defensive flaws, and the favorites were lucky to escape with a draw.

Japan often exposed the young Dutch defense and Osako made it count in the 43rd minute, moving free in the center and taking a pass from captain Makoto Hassebe to slot a low shot past goalie Jasper Cillessen.

“We gave it away just ahead of halftime in an incredible way,” said Van Gaal, who was unhappy with his defense being flatfooted with halftime beckoning.

With Stefan de Vrij struggling in defense, Honda showed the flair the Dutch were lacking, and finished off a nice flowing move with a low shot to beat Cillessen again. Earlier, he came close to a spectacular goal with curling long-range shot that hit the bar in the 52nd minute.

With Shinji Kagawa coming on for the second half, Japan showed even more creativity and belied the fact it is 44th in the FIFA rankings, compared to eighth for the Netherlands.

“We didn’t do bad at all against a team as strong as the Dutch,” said Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

“The result itself was not so important today, it was more about the performance and seeing how well we could play,” said Zaccheroni. “I think it is a performance that I can be satisfied with.

“We did well going forward and on the counter-attack and made lots of chances on the break so I am pleased. The aim today was to see how the new players would do and how the team overall would perform. The new players did well and the team was smooth in attack and defense.”

Zaccheroni had been feeling the heat after two defeats away to Serbia (2-0) and Belarus (1-0) last month and some disgruntled Japan fans in Belgium unveiled banners criticizing the Italian.

“Can you get results in June (at the World Cup) as things stand now?” read one, while others bore the name of leading J. League scorer Yoshito Okubo and second-top scorer Kengo Kawamata, both overlooked by Zaccheroni for selection.

“In the first half I thought it would be difficult after going two goals down, but Osako scored to pull it back to 2-1 in the first half and that gave us hope,” said Honda.

“In the second half we never gave up thanks to that goal. But that said, when you think about the chances we had after making it 2-2, maybe we have a problem. It was a good performance but we can’t be too satisfied. It’s only a draw and we have to look at how we can put the game away ahead of our next game against Belgium.”

Brazil pounds Honduras

Miami Gardens Florida AP

Maicon, Willian and Hulk scored in a seven-minute span in Brazil’s 5-0 exhibition victory over Honduras on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 71,124 at Sun Life Stadium.

Maicon connected in the 66th minute, Willian in the 70th and Hulk in the 73rd.

Bernard opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. Paulinho’s cross from the right wing found an open Bernard just outside the 6-yard box and his blast landed under the crossbar.

Dante scored in the 55th minute on a header. Neymar sent a free kick from the left wing to Dante near the 6-yard area.