PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL – Newcomer Koji Miyoshi scored in both halves for Japan as Hajime Moriyasu’s young side matched Uruguay in an entertaining 2-2 draw Thursday at the Copa America in Brazil.
Luis Suarez equalized from the penalty spot after Japan took a surprise 1-0 lead, while Jose Gimenez leveled the scores at 2-2 following Miyoshi’s second goal at Porto Alegre’s Arena do Gremio.
After opening its Group C campaign with a 4-0 loss to Chile, Japan gave a much-improved performance against the seven-time South American champions, who won their previous match against Ecuador 4-0.
Moriyasu made six changes to his lineup comprised largely of young players in the picture for next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.
Veteran goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima made his first start of the tournament, while Real Madrid acquisition Takefusa Kubo moved to the bench, eventually entering as a late substitute for man-of-the-match Miyoshi.
Uruguay displayed its attacking threat early, quickly generating a shot for Suarez off a length-of-the-field counter following a Japan corner.
Twenty-two-year-old Yokohama F. Marinos midfielder Miyoshi opened his international account with a superb finish in the 25th minute, running onto a long ball from Gaku Shibasaki before beating ‘keeper Fernando Muslera from the right of the area.
“I thought I had a chance to score, as I received the ball in space and saw I had room in front of me. I was glad to put my shot on target,” Miyoshi said.
The advantage was short-lived, with Suarez leveling the scores in the 32nd minute following the awarding of a penalty by the video assistant referee.
Center-back Naomichi Ueda was deemed to have fouled Edinson Cavani after the Paris Saint-Germain forward went to the ground theatrically inside the area. Replays showed Ueda making contact with Cavani’s striking foot after the shot.
Kawashima prevented Japan from going behind early in the second half, rushing off his line to block Cavani on the breakaway at the edge of the box.
Miyoshi netted his second goal in the 59th minute, scoring from close range after Muslera deflected a cross from Daiki Sugioka into his path.
Once again, Japan’s time in front was brief. Atletico Madrid defender Gimenez equalized with a header in the 66th minute after beating Takehiro Tomiyasu to a corner kick.
Japan survived a number of close calls as Uruguay turned up the pressure late in search of a winner.
Moriyasu praised his team for its effort and execution against the side ranked No. 8 in the world.
“They wanted to win and that showed in the way they played. They worked hard and went in for challenges. The (Uruguay goals) were unfortunate, but overall it was a great effort,” Moriyasu said.
“If we win our next game, we’ll have a good chance to advance from the group.”
Miyoshi said getting the point against Uruguay was crucial to advancing at the June 14-July 7 tournament, where Japan is competing as an invited nation.
“We were able to execute our game plan. As an individual player, I was glad to score, but getting the point as a team was more important,” said the attacking midfielder, who debuted against Chile.
Japan will play its final group game against Ecuador in Mineirao on Monday.
Women’s World Cup
In Le Havre, France, the United States faced its toughest test of the Women’s World Cup and the defending champion was again dominant Thursday night, beating Sweden 2-0 in Group F to serve up revenge against the fierce rival that stunned the Americans in the last Olympics.
Lindsey Horan scored within the first three minutes, the fastest goal of this tournament. The United States went up 2-0 on an own goal off Jonna Andersson in the 50th minute that gave the Americans a tournament-record 18 goals in the group stage.
In other action, Chile beat Thailand 2-0 in Rennes to finish third in the Group F but was eliminated from the tournament.
Cameroon qualified for the last 16 when Ajara Nchout earned it a 2-1 win over New Zealand with the last kick of their Group E match in Montpellier.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5