Japan lost 2-1 to Ukraine on Tuesday in an international friendly fielding a significantly changed side from last Friday’s draw against Mali.
Keisuke Honda, Genki Haraguchi, and Gaku Shibasaki all started with four J.League players also making the starting XI in Kenyu Sugimoto, Hotaru Yamaguchi, Tomoaki Makino and Naomichi Ueda.
But Ukraine set the rhythm from the start, slipping past Japan’s pressing with clever pass work and repeatedly sending crosses from deep down the sides. In the 21st minute, Yaroslav Rakitskiy’s strong mid-ranged shot deflected off Ueda’s head for an own goal.
Japan quickly rushed to find an equaliser, and with four minutes remaining in the first half it was Makino who found it, heading in Shibasaki’s free kick to make it 1-1.
Vahid Halilhodzic introduced attackers such as Yu Kobayashi and Yuya Kubo to push for a come-from-behind win, but they were able to generate few chances. In the 69th minute, Oleksandr Karavaev scored what would become the game-winner.
Shoya Nakajima, the goal-scoring hero against Mali, put on another valiant display in his 15 minutes on the pitch, but he was unable to score a second goal in two matches as the final whistle blew on Japan’s hopes for a result against the European side.
The Samurai Blue will return to Japan with one draw and one loss to show from their two matches during the international break and plenty of concern over their 2018 FIFA World Cup prospects.