Japan struggle to beat Malta in warm-up
DUESSELDORF, Germany, June 4: Keiji Tamada scored his first international goal for 18 months to lead Japan to a narrow 1-0 win over Malta in their final World Cup warm-up today.
The striker's early goal proved decisive for the Asian champions, who were forced to make three changes.
Japan coach Zico left out front-line forwards Naohiro Takahara and Atsushi Yanagisawa, who are carrying knocks, and his side lacked bite as a result.
Wing back Akira Kaji was another absentee from the side which drew 2-2 with World Cup hosts Germany last week.
Japan take on Australia in their opening World Cup game on June 12.
The omens looked good for Japan when Tamada tucked in a left-wing cross from Alex after two minutes.
But Zico was frustrated by his team's lack of penetration and the Brazilian will be anxious to have Takahara and Yanagisawa fit for the Group F opener with Australia.
''We were poor,'' Zico told reporters. ''Hopefully we've got it out of our system now because time is getting tight.
''It's a bit of a step back. We didn't have the right mindset, perhaps because we knew we were playing a weaker side.'' Japan, who reached the last 16 as World Cup co-hosts in 2002, also meet Croatia and holders Brazil in Group F.