OITA, Japan (AFP) - Japan were held to a goalless draw by Venezuela in the first home game of the season for the Blue Samurai on Tuesday as they prepare for the World Cup in South Africa.
Japan were the first team to qualify for international football's biggest prize while Venezuela failed to reach the finals after finishing eighth in the South American group.
Venezuela had the first chance of the match when 17-year-old debutant forward Fernando Aristiguieta missed a header from close range in the ninth minute following midfielder Giacomo Di Giorgi's long-off effort.
But it appeared to be the best chance for either side in a game bereft of clear scoring opportunities.
Mitsuo Ogasawara, playing for Japan for the first time since the 2006 World Cup, fired a sizzling shot from outside the area, forcing goalkeeper Leonardo Morales to save in the 16th minute.
Ogasawara and Brazilian-born Marcus Tulio Tanaka missed a couple more shots, while Aristiguieta failed to catch up with Caracas defender Hose Manuel Rey's free kick to end a goalless first half.
Venezuela piled on the pressure in the second half but managed just one shot on goal through defender Giovanny Romero.
Sota Hirayama, who scored a hat-trick in an Asian Cup qualifier against Yemen last month, was sent on with Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Hisato Sato in a fruitless attempt to lend the Japanese some rhythm.
Overall, Japan hit a total of 12 shots on goal and Venezuela four.
"I was disappointed that we couldn't win because Venezuela put wonderful pressure on us. But as an early game of the season, it was a nice game," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada.
"Mitsuo struggled in the first half as the combination with the others was not so good but he did very well in the second half.
"We have three more games this month (in the East Asian championship). We are going to level up our team through the championship, looking forward to the World Cup," Okada added.
Japan will play China, South Korea and Hong Kong in the championship starting in Tokyo on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Venezuela coach Cesar Farias said: "It was a very difficult game but we can go back home being satisfied after learning football played at the top level of the world."
Farias said his team had learned a lot from a draw with Brazil at the end of the South American qualifying campaign.
"I believe we are very close to the next World Cup," he added. "It was the first step towards the following four years. It gave us a lot of experience. I'm very glad that we can go back home with such an experience."
|Coach: T. Okada|
for Y. Tokunaga 59'
for K. Nakamura 59'
for S. Okazaki 75'
for M. Ogasawara 75'
for Y. Ōkubo 84'
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