YOKOHAMA, Japan, Sept 9, (AFP): Asian champions Japan twice squandered the lead in a 2-2 home draw with Venezuela on Tuesday after another calamitous display of defending. The Blue Samurai had contributed to their own downfall in last Friday’s 2-0 defeat by Uruguay, their first match under Mexican coach Javier Aguirre. Lightning struck again in Yokohama as Japan failed to capitalise on goals from substitute Yoshinori Muto and Gaku Shibasaki.
The baby-faced Muto put his side in front with a fierce left-foot shot six minutes into the second half. But Mario Rondon levelled from the penalty spot seven minutes later after a clumsy foul by Hiroki Mizumoto, needlessly lunging in on Alejandro Guerra. Shibasaki marked his debut with a sweet volley after 66 minutes following good work down the left from Shinji Okazaki, but once again Venezuela quickly pulled level — this time in farcical circumstances.
There looked to be little danger when defender Gabriel Cichero let fly with a speculative effort from 30 metres, until Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima let the ball squirm through his gloves and dribble into the back of the net — a horror mistake which stunned the crowd of 60,000.
Japan, whose jittery defence gifted Uruguay their goals in Sapporo, looked just as uncomfortable against the Venezuelans. Kawashima was forced into a last-ditch save from Rondon on the half-hour mark after Hajime Hosogai’s error. Keisuke Honda, wearing a pink captain’s armband, rattled the post with a free kick which would have made it 3-1 but, despite signs of improvement going forwards, Japan could not paper over the cracks of a leaky defence, leaving Aguirre pondering the size of his rebuilding job.
“I thought we did better in attack today and I’m happy with the new boys,” the former Mexico coach told reporters. “But once again we’ve made two mistakes and conceded two goals. Luckily it was only a friendly.” Japan, widely panned after their meek exit from the World Cup under Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, play four more friendlies this year, including a glamour game against Brazil in Singapore next month, before they open the defence of their Asian Cup title in January.
In London, Australia defeated Saudi Arabia 3-2 in a hard-fought friendly on Monday to secure their first victory in almost a year. The Socceroos’ last win came against Costa Rica in November 2013, with three defeats at the World Cup adding to a disappointing run of six losses in seven games. They got back on track at Fulham’s Craven Cottage after surging into a two-goal lead within the opening six minutes thanks to strikes from veteran Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak.
Hassan Muath scored a second half penalty for the Saudis, but Bailey Wright restored Australia’s two-goal advantage before Tayseer Al Jassim netted late on to set up a tense finale. Former Everton midfielder Cahill took just three minutes to open the scoring when he bundled home after the Saudi defence failed to clear. That was the 36th goal of Cahill’s international career and Australia were soon celebrating again when captain Jedinak doubled their lead on six minutes, the Crystal Palace midfielder rising highest to head home from a free-kick. Yasir Alshahrani came close to pulling a goal back just after the interval but could only turn Al Jassim’s deep cross over Mitch Langerak’s goal.
The second half had little fluidity as both sides introduced a number of players from the bench — with Jedinak and Cahill both replaced midway through the half. A defensive mix-up moments after Cahill’s departure saw Langerak storm off his line and bring down Mukhtar Fallatah — with Muath stepping up to half the deficit from the spot. Australia soon pulled two clear as Preston defender Wright was on hand to thrash home when the ball dropped to him six yards out. Al Jassim had better luck as he timed his run to score from close-range at the far post, but Australia held on to clinch a morale-boosting victory.