Alberto Zaccheroni’s men were one of the first to book their ticket from the Asian qualifying zone, but since have struggled to prepare for the tournament in convincing fashion.
The Italian was under pressure from the Japanese supporters – including some of the 9000 who travelled to Genk, displaying a banner pre-match criticising the Japan coach.
But despite trailing by two goals through Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben, Japan took charge in the second half with some excellent football and Keisuke Honda levelled, adding to Yuya Osako’s strike before the interval.
Japan have not won in their last three games with previous defeats to Belarus and Ghana.
It was, however, the Samurai Blue who kicked off the strongest foot with the Asians playing some fluid football within the first five minutes of action.
Soon after, Nagatomo unleashed a sprightly dash into the box, cutting across the face of Jasper Cillessen’s goal with Osako unlucky not to sneak home the opener.
But a mistake from Schalke right-back Astuto Uchida handed the Netherlands the early breakthrough after 11 minutes with Van der Vaart tucking home with a deft chip over Nikishawa.
Robben would come close two minutes later through a header from Jermain Lens’ inswinging cross – yet the Bayern Munich man would deliver a blow to Zaccheroni’s side.
After being denied moments earlier by Shusaku Nikishawa from a similar curling left-footed effort, Robben added a second goal, driving at the hesitant defenders before unleashing a spectacular drive into the top corner.
Japan hit back on 43 minutes with the best combination of the match as Makoto Hasebe broke clear from midfield with a charging run, playing in Osako who struck impressively first-time for his third in five internationals.
But the real star was AC Milan-bound Honda who lit up the show in Genk.
A minute after Kagawa’s effort, Honda showed outstanding technique to volley from an awkward standing position, using no backlift, as the ball crashed against the woodwork.
It was a matter of time before Japan levelled after constant pressure from a high-pressing strategy that was more complementary to Uchida’s marauding runs forward.
As the clock struck the hour mark, Honda finished off a wonderful team-move from Japan, involving seven one-two combinations with Uchida, then crucially, Osako who laid in the CSKA ace and he swept home to level the scores.
Kagawa forced another fine save from Cillessen on 66 minutes, deceiving the Dutch defence by jinking on to his left-foot and striking dangerously towards the far corner.
The substitutions didn’t upset the momentum of the match with Japan miles on top after the break and Yoichiro Kakitani from Cerezo Osaka added an extra level of guile and craft in attack.
The Oranje were on the back-foot for most of the second half, but held on stubbornly to extend their unbeaten run to 16 games with both of these sides heading to Brazil next summer.
- Sports & Recreation
- Arjen Robben
- Keisuke Honda
- Rafael van der Vaart