GENK, Belgium (AP) — Japan fought back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against the Netherlands on Saturday in a friendly between two World Cup qualifiers.
Veteran Rafael van der Vaart scored a goal and set up another to give the Netherlands an early lead. But Keisuke Honda helped Japan fight back with the kind of intricate, sparkling play more associated with the Dutch and was unlucky not to win.
After Van der Vaart's opener in the 12th minute, Arjen Robben scored the second in the 38th. Japan scored its first ever goal against the Dutch through Yuga Osako in the 43rd minute and Honda equalized on the hour.
"They even could have made it 3-2. Fortunately for us, it didn't happen," Dutch coach Louis van Gaal said. The Netherlands plays Colombia in Amsterdam on Tuesday while Japan moves to Brussels to face Belgium.
Van der Vaart made the most of a poor back header by Maya Yoshida to put the Dutch ahead, rushing in just in time to lift it over goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa for the opener. Van der Vaart then became provider for fellow veteran Robben, setting the winger free on the right with a volleyed pass. The Bayern Munich forward made his trademark move — cutting inside and curling a left-footer high into the net. Again, Nishikawa had no chance.
While the veterans excelled, most other Dutch players struggled through a clumsy game on a slippery, patchy pitch that laid bare some basic defensive flaws, and the favorites were lucky to escape with a draw.
Japan often exposed the young Dutch defense and Osako made it count in the 43rd minute, moving free in the center and taking a pass from captain Makoto Hassebe to slot a low shot past goalie Jasper Cillessen.
"We gave it away just ahead of halftime in an incredibly way," said Van Gaal, who was unhappy with his defense being flatfooted with halftime beckoning. With Stefan de Vrij struggling in defense, Honda showed the flair the Dutch were lacking, and finished off a nice flowing move with a low shot to beat Cillessen again. Earlier, he came close to a spectacular goal with curling long-range shot that hit the bar in the 52nd minute.
With Shinji Kagawa coming in for the second half, Japan showed even more creativity and belied the fact it is 44th in the FIFA rankings, compared to eighth for the Netherlands. "We didn't do bad at all against a team as strong as the Dutch," said Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
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