TOYOTA, AICHI PREF. - Shu Kurata opened his international account with a late header to propel Japan past New Zealand 2-1 in a friendly on Friday.
With three minutes left on the clock, substitute Kurata dove into a ball headed back to him by Hiroki Sakai after a left-wing cross from Takashi Inui.
Yuya Osako gave Japan a 1-0 lead from the spot early in the second half before Chris Wood equalized for the All Whites. It was Japan’s first game since wrapping up the World Cup final qualifiers last month.
Kurata, who came on just five minutes before his goal, couldn’t stop smiling after netting for the first time in a Japan shirt.
“Hiroki set it all up and made it easy for me,” said the Gamba Osaka man, owner of five caps. “I couldn’t contribute in the first four games so it was nice to get the job done.”
Vahid Halilhodzic, whose side hosts Haiti in Yokohama on Tuesday, was pleased to come away with the win despite fielding an under-strength team.
“We may have won but it was not easy at all,” Halilhodzic said. “New Zealand defended very well and were strong in the air, good with long balls.
“We scored the first goal, but we lost control of the game and that’s when we conceded. I thought we worked well collectively for the second goal.”
On a cold, wet evening at Toyota Stadium, Halilhodzic gave a rare starting nod to Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto and Urawa Reds defender Tomoaki Makino in the first of two home friendlies for Japan during this international window.
New Zealand managed to keep Japan off the scoreboard in the first half, but the hosts broke the deadlock in the 50th minute through Osako’s penalty.
Hotaru Yamaguchi won the spot kick with a shot from outside the box that went off the right arm of Andrew Durante. Osako coolly converted, hitting his seventh international goal into the top right corner.
New Zealand equalized with a header by Wood one minute to the hour, but Halilhodzic’s men had the last laugh, Kurata pushing them in front for good.