BRUSSELS (AP) — Keisuke Honda led Japan to a 3-2 comeback victory over heavily favored Belgium in a friendly on Tuesday between two teams bound for the World Cup.
After Belgium took the lead in the 16th minute through Kevin Mirallas, Japan came back through goals from Yoichiro Kakitani in the 38th, Honda in the 54th and Shinji Okazaki in the 64th minute in a stunning display of combination play. Toby Alderweireld headed home the last goal on a header in the spectacular game.
Some might consider it a fluke for the 44th-ranked team in the world, but after Japan outplayed the Netherlands during a 2-2 draw last weekend, it proved that the perennial Asian World Cup qualifier has a lot to offer in Brazil next year.
"Now we will try to do better than in 2002," when Japan reached the second round in the World Cup it co-hosted with South Korea, Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima said. For Belgium, ranked fifth in the world, it was a second straight home defeat after losing 2-0 to Colombia last week and dampened the spirits of the 40,000 fans at the King Baudouin Stadium.
"Japan was quick and strong and it gave us trouble," defender Daniel van Buyten said. Midfielder Steven Defour added: "We will have to work on our weak points and make them better in time for the World Cup."
It started well enough for Belgium, which went ahead after a double defensive blunder. First Kawashima rushed too far out of his goal when trying to smother a counterattack. But he couldn't prevent Romelu Lukaku from sending the ball into the middle, where Gotoku Sakai inexplicably failed to clear and let Mirallas through.
It only brought the best out of Japan, one of the earliest qualifiers for the World Cup. First, the short Kakitani escaped the attention of the towering Van Buyten and a pinpoint cross found him in the center where, unmarked, he easily headed home the equalizer.
Japan took the lead in the 54th minute when another quick combination found Honda free in the center and his powerful shot beat Simon Mignolet. Ten minutes later Kakitani was the provider with a clever chip over the defense to allow Okazaki to volley home from a tight angle. Mignolet, the backup for the injured Thibaut Courtois, has conceded five goals in two games.
Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert