WUHAN, CHINA – Urawa Reds midfielder Yuki Muto scored a first-half equalizer, but it was not enough to prevent Japan from finishing bottom of the standings for the first time at the East Asian Cup on Sunday after a 1-1 draw against host China in the final game of the tournament.
Wu Lei opened the scoring for China after 10 minutes before Muto’s second goal of the tournament leveled four minutes to halftime at Wuhan Sports Center Stadium.
Japan finished with two points from three games after a 2-1 opening defeat to North Korea and a 1-1 draw with South Korea.
“We played a quite good game, we played well enough to win,” said Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic. “We’re improving steadily and were physically fresh today. We would have won the competition had we arrived here two or three days earlier. We have many problems and we’ll try to solve them.”
Halilhodzic made six changes to the team that drew with South Korea, handing Gamba Osaka trio Masaaki Higashiguchi, Daiki Niwa and Koki Yonekura their national team debuts.
In a full-blooded opening to the game, Takashi Usami rattled the crossbar after three minutes, although the linesman flagged for offside, but China took the lead to trigger delirious scenes among the home fans.
Wu Xin touched on Gao Lin’s square pass and Wu Lei rattled in a shot that deflected off Niwa and flew into the bottom left-hand corner.
Wu Lei missed a glorious chance to double China’s lead with only Higashiguchi to beat after latching onto a long ball in the 27th minute.
Usami flashed a deflected shot wide and Kengo Kawamata headed the resultant corner over but Muto equalized when he slid in to poke home Yonekura’s low cross from the left flank.
“We were talking about finishing on a high note with a win so it is frustrating,” Muto said. “We have to score with the chances we have to win. I showed my ability (to score), my teammates strung passes together and set me up nicely.
“I’d have liked to score one more.”
Muto had another chance to put Japan in front but fired straight at Wang Dalei and neither side was able to make any further inroads.
“I’m very disappointed, I couldn’t score and realized my lack of quality,” Usami said. “We talked about raising our game on slow attacks as well as rapid ones but we lacked clear ideas on how to get the end product.”
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