Soccer / World Cup

Japan squanders lead twice in draw with Venezuela

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Japan twice took the lead but failed to deliver a first win for new manager Javier Aguirre in a 2-2 friendly draw with Venezuela on Tuesday night.

Rookie FC Tokyo forward Yoshinori Muto put Japan ahead with his first international goal six minutes after coming on as a halftime substitute, only for Mario Rondon to equalize for Venezuela from the penalty spot seven minutes later.

Debutant Gaku Shibasaki then restored Japan’s lead with a stylish volley in the 66th minute, but a rare blunder by goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima allowed Gabriel Cichero to grab a second for the South Americans in front of 64,007 at Nissan Stadium.

The result leaves Aguirre still waiting for his first win after losing his first game in charge 2-0 to Uruguay last Friday, but the Mexican was unconcerned as he begins the job of rebuilding following Japan’s first-round exit from the World Cup in Brazil this summer.

“In the first half Venezuela were on top and we didn’t really create any dangerous chances,” said Aguirre. “In the second half the substitutions worked out and we managed to score twice and settle for a draw.

“We made some mistakes that led to goals, but that’s all part of the game and it’s better to make these mistakes in friendlies like this.”

Muto gave Japan the lead with a well-taken goal in the 51st minute, opening his international account in his second appearance having only turned pro at the start of the year while still studying at Keio University.

“It was a great feeling to score,” said the 22-year-old. “The manager didn’t give me any special instructions — he just told me to play my normal game.

“Obviously I still have things to work on but I want to raise my game to the next level. It’s disappointing not to get the win but hopefully if I’m involved again I can help us do that.”

Aguirre made five changes to the team that lost to Uruguay in Sapporo, handing a first cap to Kashima Antlers midfielder Shibasaki in the process.

Keisuke Honda almost gave Japan a dream start when he shot over the bar with just 13 seconds on the clock, but Venezuela settled into a rhythm and Roberto Rosales forced Kawashima into a save when he was given space to shoot in the 11th minute.

Mario Rondon then came close to giving Venezuela the lead, profiting from a mistake by Hajime Hosogai only to be denied by Kawashima when clean through on goal just before the half-hour mark.

Luis Manuel Seijas also tested Kawashima as Japan came under sustained pressure, but the home side managed to ride out the storm and Yoichiro Kakitani twice forced Venezuela ‘keeper Daniel Hernandez into action before the halftime whistle sounded.

Aguirre replaced Kakitani with Muto and brought on Shinji Okazaki for Yuya Osako at the break, and the changes had an immediate effect.

Muto picked up a loose ball on the halfway line and rode a Venezuelan challenge as he surged forward, then unleashed a left-foot shot from outside the box to beat Hernandez.

But a foul in the box on Alejandro Guerra by Hiroki Mizumoto gave Venezuela the chance to level the score just seven minutes later, and Rondon made no mistake from the penalty spot.

Shibasaki restored Japan’s lead with a clinical strike, lashing home an Okazaki cross with a first-time shot at the back post.

But again the South Americans clawed their way back into the match as Cichero let fly with a speculative strike that Kawashima allowed to slip through his grasp for a second equalizer.

“I’m happy that I got the chance to look at some new players,” said Aguirre. “We’re working on a project with the goal being four years down the line, so I’m very happy.”

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