YOKOHAMA - Shinji Kagawa scored deep into injury time to save Japan from an embarrassing defeat in a 3-3 friendly draw with minnow Haiti on Tuesday night.
Japan, which was playing its second game since qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, went into the match at Nissan Stadium as the clear favorite against Haiti and duly took the lead with two goals in the first 17 minutes from Shu Kurata and Kenyu Sugimoto.
But Haiti, which lost in the penultimate North American zone World Cup qualifying round and is currently ranked No. 48 in the world, hit back through Kevin Lafrance and Duckens Nazon before Nazon put Haiti ahead with a stunning goal in the 78th minute.
Kagawa ensured that Japan would take a share of the spoils, however, lunging to divert a Gotoku Sakai shot over the line with virtually the last kick of the game.
“It’s difficult to analyze a match like this,” said Japan manager Vahid Halilhodzic. “I think this was our worst game. We created a lot of chances and went two goals ahead, and after that I don’t know what got into the players’ heads. After we scored, everything just stopped.
“I gave chances to a lot of players who hadn’t played much, and some of them will be candidates for future squads and some won’t. I haven’t seen a game as bad as this. We can’t talk about the World Cup after a game like this.”
Japan needed an 88th-minute winner from Kurata to beat New Zealand 2-1 in a friendly four days previously, and defender Yuto Nagatomo knows that he and his teammates must improve before they take on Brazil and Belgium in November friendlies.
“It was a tough game,” said Nagatomo, who was winning his 99th international cap. “We managed to get the draw right at the end but I can’t say it was good. We wanted to win.
“I felt that our accuracy with the final touch wasn’t there. We have a lot of lessons to learn from the first half too, and that goes for me as well.”
Japan looked capable of overwhelming the Haitians straight from the kickoff, and it was no surprise when Kurata opened the scoring in the seventh minute. Yuto Nagatomo darted through the defense to cut back a cross from the left, and Kurata met it with a header that looped over goalkeeper Johny Placide.
Kurata could have had a second when Sugimoto played him through on goal 10 minutes later, only for Placide to block his shot. Sugimoto was on hand to bundle home the rebound, though, doubling Japan’s lead.
But the visitors threw a wrench in the works when Lafrance pulled a goal back in the 28th minute, catching the Japanese defense flat-footed to bundle the ball home from close range.
Takashi Inui and Sugimoto both went close to restoring Japan’s two-goal cushion before the halftime whistle, but instead it was Haiti that struck eight minutes after the restart.
Carlens Arcus took advantage of some slack marking to punch a cross into the Japanese box, and Coventry City striker Nazon was on hand to steer it into the net.
Halilhodzic brought on Kagawa and Yuya Osako — who scored a penalty against New Zealand — in an attempt to shift the momentum back in Japan’s favor.
But instead Nazon gave Haiti the lead with a spectacular effort, curling the ball into the net from well outside the box with goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi completely beaten.
That looked to be it until Japan made one final, desperate throw of the dice with the 90 minutes already up. Substitute Shintaro Kurumaya played a cross into the Haiti box that Sakai drilled toward goal, and Kagawa — lying prone on the ground — diverted its path to deceive the Haiti ‘keeper.
“For us it was a great result,” said Haiti manager Marc Collat. “The players are a little disappointed that they didn’t manage to hold on to their one-goal lead but I’m very satisfied.
“We didn’t really start playing until the 20th minute. It was like we were spectators. By that time we were two goals down and it was difficult, but we scored one goal and then we changed the tactics, and the players worked hard and played well to score two more. It was logical that Japan would score a third but I’m still satisfied, even if there is a little disappointment.”