Japan 2-2 Belgium
Japan took their first World Cup point with a 2-2 draw against Belgium in their Group H opener.
The co-hosts struggled against more powerful opposition in a goalless first half but came from behind after the break to get within sight of an historic victory.
Belgian skipper Marc Wilmots gave his side the lead early in the second half before goals from Takayuki Suzuki and Junichi Inamoto put Japan ahead.
Belgium defender Peter van der Heyden stole forward to deny the home team late on.
But Japan at least avoided becoming the first World Cup hosts to lose their opening match.
The hosts saw more of the ball than Belgium in the opening period and used it neatly in midfield.
But their attacks foundered on their own nervy over-ambition and the physical power of the Belgians that they had feared before kick-off.
29 mins: Narazaki saves Wilmots' header
37: Bart Goor puts a good chance wide
57: Wilmots scores with a bicycle kick
59: Suzuki equalises for Japan
68: Inamoto gives Japan the lead
75: Van der Heyden brings Belgium level
Belgium had a clear advantage in this area and used their superior strength to create the half's clearest-cut chances.
Gert Verheyen headed a good opportunity wide on 22 minutes.
Captain Marc Wilmots placed his header too close to Japanese keeper Seigo Narazaki just before the half-hour.
And seven minutes later midfielder Bart Goor spurned a third opportunity when he screwed his shot wide after Wilmots' initial effort had been blocked.
At the other end of the field, Belgian goalkeeper Geert de Vlieger remained a virtual spectator as Japan struggled to pose a genuine threat in the attacking third.
A wayward snap-shot from Hidetoshi Nakata and a header glanced wide by Atsushi Yanagisawa were the best efforts they could muster before the break.
Japan could do little to alter the pattern of the game as the second half began and it came as no surprise when Wilmots put Belgium ahead in the 57th minute.
The home defence failed to deal with a lofted free-kick, which fell to Eric van Meir just outside the box.
The Standard Liege defender had waited eight years for his World Cup debut, having been an unused substitute at USA 94 and France '98, and he made the most of his belated opportunity.
Van Meir looped the ball back in for Wilmots to score from 12 yards with a spectacular overhead kick.
That should have been Japan's cue to fold, but to the capacity crowd's delight they were level within two minutes.
Jacky Peeters misjudged a long ball down the left and Suzuki slipped in behind him to prod the ball past de Vlieger and into the net.
Roared on by the home support, Japan now had their tails up and it took a fine tip over from de Vlieger to keep out Shinjo Ono's curling free-kick after 62 minutes.
But five minutes later, the stadium erupted as the hosts stormed into the lead.
Belgium lost possession in midfield and Inamoto burst past van Meir before thumping a drive past de Vlieger from just inside the penalty area.
However, Japan could not control the game sufficiently to protect their lead and Belgium pulled level with a quarter-of-an-hour to play.
Defender van der Heyden motored forward to beat the Japanese offside trap and chipped the ball beyond Narazaki into the far corner of the goal.
But Japan finished the stronger and thought they had won the match when Arsenal midfielder Inamoto put the ball into the net, only to be called back for a foul.
Japan: Seigo Narazaki, Naoki Matsuda, Ryuzo Morioka (capt, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto 72), Koji Nakata, Junichi Inamoto, Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinji Ono (Alex 64), Kazuyuki Toda, Daisuke Ichikawa, Takayuki Suzuki (Hiroaki Morishima 70), Atsushi Yanagisawa.
Subs Not Used: Yutaka Akita, Takashi Fukunishi, Toshihiro Hattori, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Tomokazu Myojin, Masashi Nakayama, Akinori Nishizawa, Mitsuo Ogasawara, Hitoshi Sogahata.
Booked: Toda, Inamoto.
Goals: Suzuki 59, Inamoto 69.
Belgium: Geert de Vlieger, Eric van Meir, Timmy Simons, Jacky Peeters, Peter van der Heyden, Daniel van Buyten, Johan Walem (Wesley Sonck 70), Gert Verheyen (Branko Strupar 83), Yves Vanderhaeghe, Bart Goor, Marc Wilmots.
Subs Not Used: Danny Boffin, Glen de Boeck, Eric Deflandre, Gaetan Englebert, Frederic Herpoel, Mbo Mpenza, Bernd Thijs, Nico Van Kerckhoven, Francky Vandendriessche, Sven Vermant.
Booked: Van der Heyden, Verheyen, Peeters, Van Meir.
Goals: Wilmots 57, Van Der Heyden 75.
Referee: W Mattus Vega (Costa Rica).
| MATCH STATS|
| || Japan || Belgium|
|Corners (1st half) || 1 || 2|
|Corners (2nd half) || 1 || 2|
|Fouls committed || 24 || 24|
|Caught offside || 1 || 1|
|Shots on target || 3 || 8|
|Shots off target || 6 || 3|
|Hit woodwork (back into play) || 0 || 0|
|Yellow cards || 2 || 3|
|Red cards || 0 || 0|
|STOPPAGE TIME || |
|First half - 1 mins || Second half - 3 mins |