WUHAN, CHINA – Cerezo Osaka’s Hotaru Yamaguchi opened his national team account to earn defending champion Japan its first point after a 1-1 draw with archrival South Korea at the East Asian Cup on Wednesday.
Jang Hyun-soo fired South Korea in front from the penalty spot, but World Cup midfielder Yamaguchi smashed home to level the score six minutes before halftime.
Japan, stunned 2-1 by North Korea on Monday, has one point while South Korea, a 2-0 winner over China, has four points after two games at the four-team round-robin tournament in Wuhan, China
The Kashima Antlers duo of Gaku Shibasaki and Shinzo Koroki started and Gamba Osaka’s Shu Kurata was handed his Japan debut as coach Vahid Halilhodzic made five changes to the team that succumbed to North Korea.
“We defended much better than we did in the last game,” said Halilhodzic, who has yet to win a competitive game since taking over from scandal-tainted Javier Aguirre in March.
Neither side was able to carve out any meaningful openings early on, but South Korea took the lead on 27 minutes, Jang sending Japan goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa the wrong way from the spot after Masato Morishige was adjudged to have handled Kim Min-woo’s header in the box.
“Our opponents were more physical than we were and it was tough for us,” Halilhodzic said. “We had chances in the second half and we could have won if we had snatched at them. But it was a fair result.
“Some of the younger players have played for Japan for the first time but there was a great spirit in this team. We were tired but they gave it their all.”
Yamaguchi equalized when he took a square pass from Kurata and rammed a shot past South Korea goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu.
“We struggled for long periods of the game but everyone defended well,” Yamaguchi said. “We had chances on the break and if we had taken them . . . it was a tough game. I didn’t have (getting my first Japan goal) on my mind but it didn’t lead to a win so I can’t celebrate it and we have to just turn things around.
Lee Jae-sung hit the crossbar after Kim Kee-hee headed on Jung Yoo-wung’s free kick in the 68th minute, Lee Jae-sung rifled just over and Kim Min-woo also went close as South Korea attempted to regain its lead but there was to be no further breakthrough.
With the East Asian Cup falling outside of the official FIFA calendar, Halilhodzic was unable to call on his European-based stars and picked several untried players in a domestic-based 23-man squad.
Japan wraps up the tournament against host China on Sunday.
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