Moscow: Japan claimed their first victory of the year on Tuesday, coming from behind to beat Paraguay 4-2 and boost sagging morale a week before their opening World Cup Group H match against Colombia.
It was The Blue Samurai’s first win under coach Akira Nishino, who had lost friendlies against Ghana and Switzerland since taking over from Vahid Halilhodzic in April.
Japan, one of the most successful Asian teams, having qualified for the World Cup for a sixth consecutive time, scored four times despite managing only three shots against Paraguay, who failed to reach the World Cup finals.
Takashi Inui set up the victory at the Tivoli-Neu stadium in the Austrian city of Innsbruck with two second-half goals, both assisted by Shinji Kagawa. Paraguay’s Federico Santander scored an own goal and Kagawa put the result beyond doubt with a stoppage-time effort.
“We held our shape in defence and contained them, and that was a concern for us, but you need balance as well,” Nishino said after his team ended a five-match winless streak, stretching back to December. “You need to break down your opponents and we finally did that in the second half.
“Inui has a talent for dribbling in the box and I want more of that from him. We saw that with his second-half goals.”
Halilhodzic was dismissed two months before the start of the World Cup despite securing qualification for Japan with a match to spare.
Nishino picked several veteran players in his squad, including Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki, who struggled to make the team under Halilhodzic.
Japan will travel to their training base in Kazan on Wednesday. They will play against Colombia in their Group H opener in Saransk on Tuesday before facing Senegal and Poland.
Japan are making their sixth straight appearance at the World Cup, but they have only twice reached the knockout round, both times going out in the last 16 — in 2002 and 2010.
Fellow Group H side Poland ended their World Cup warm-up fixtures on a high with a resounding 4-0 win over Lithuania as talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski netted twice in the first half.
The 29-year-old skipper took his tally to 55 international goals and also scored for the 36th time in 37 Poland games under coach Adam Nawalka.
Dawid Kownacki and Jakub Blaszczykowski were also on target for the Poles at Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw.
Poland begin their Group H campaign in Moscow against Senegal next Tuesday.