Japan opens campaign with 2-2 tie

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/A/Ap_wilmots_belgium.jpg' class='caption'> Japan surrendered its lead to tie 2-2 with Belgium in its World Cup opener in Saitama stadium.

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Co-host Japan surrendered its lead to tie 2-2 with Belgium in its World Cup opener, much to the disappointment of a passionate 55,000 home crowd in the Saitama stadium. Japan had come from behind with Takayaki Suzuki's 58th minute strike and Januchi Inamoto's superb solo effort in the 68th minute that gave the home side a 2-1 lead after Marc Wilmots converted a 57th minute scissor-kick to put the Europeans ahead. But in the 72nd minute Peter Van Der Heyden escaped his marker to latch onto a through-pass and chip his shot over Japan keeper Seigo Narazaki and into the back of the net from the edge of the area. The action off the field was almost as exciting as the show on it, as Japanese supporters created a party atmosphere at the Saitama stadium, which was built especially for the tournament. The crowd turned the 63,700 capacity stadium into a sea of blue - Japan's team color - with just a few Belgian shirts visible. The atmosphere began to build long before kick off as Japanese fans banged drums, clapped and chanted "Nippon, Nippon". The national flag, the Hinomaru, was visible in every corner of the ground and huge banners, including one reading "Welcome to Blue Heaven'', fluttered over one stand. As the teams lined up for the national anthems, three jet fighters flew over the stadium. Yet the first 45 minutes fell a touch flat, with Belgium creating the only real chances. In the 23rd minute, Gert Verheyen rose above his markers eight metres out to send Jacky Peeters' cross just wide of the right post. Six minutes later, Marc Wilmots saw his header turned away after a lunging dive by Japan goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki, and in the 36th minute, Goor drove his shot wide of the left post from inside the area. But after Belgium had taken the lead through Wilmots, Japan shifted into first gear, equalizing through Suzuki before Inamoto scored a remarkable goal. Inamoto took the ball just inside the Belgium half and went on a 30-metre run that took him past two challenges and into the area before the player clipped the ball into the top right corner of the net. Later on, Japan might have grabbed the winner. Inamoto weaved his way around two defenders in the area and put the ball in the back of the net in the 85th minute, but the referee ruled the effort out for a foul. Lineups:Japan: 12-Seigo Narazaki, 3-Naoki Matsuda, 4-Ryuzo Morioka (17-Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, 73), 5-Junichi Inamoto, 7-Hidetoshi Nakata, 11-Takayuki Suzuki (8-Hiroaki Morishima, 71), 13-Atsushi Yanagisawa, 16-Koji Nakata, 18-Shinji Ono (14-Alex, 64), 21 Kazuyuki Toda, 22-Daisuke Ichikawa Belgium: 1-Geert De Vlieger, 4-Eric Van Meir, 6-Timmy Simons, 7-Marc Wilmots, 8-Bart Goor, 10-Johan Walem (9-Wesley Sonck, 71), 11-Gert Verheyen (20-Branko Strupar, 83), 12-Peter Van Der Heyden, 15-Jacky Peeters, 16-Daniel Van Buyten, 18-Yves Vanderhaeghe Referee: William Mattus (Costa Rica)

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