Football: Careless Japan held 2-2 by Venezuela

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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 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. 

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