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   04 June, 2002 | 1610 IST



France get the blues

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Japan, Belgium in exciting 2-2 draw

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Bill Barclay

Co-hosts Japan earned their first ever World Cup point on Tuesday when they held Belgium 2-2 in a thrilling opening group H game, sharing four goals which came in 16 scintillating second half minutes.

Roared on by a nearly hysterical crowd, Junichi Inamoto's superb 68th-minute goal looked to have clinched a historic win for Philippe Troussier's side until Peter Van der Heyden equalised with 15 minutes left for the Belgians.

With four minutes left Inamoto thought he had settled it after a snaking run in the box but the referee ruled the goal out for an earlier foul.

Belgium's Marc Wilmots (3L) strikes overhead to score as (L-R) Japan's Daisuke Ichikawa, Naoki Matsuda and Ryuzo Morioka and Belgium's daniel Van Buyten watch him.Van der Heyden had been at fault for Inamoto's goal but Belgium will not be happy with a point from a match they expected to win.

Earlier Takayuki Suzuki had wiped out Marc Wilmots's 57th minute overhead kick for Belgium.

Japan lost all three of their matches at the 1998 finals in France and their draw meant the record of no host nation having ever lost its opening match at a World Cup remained intact.


In a scrappy opening, Belgium's physical advantage was clear and Gert Verheyen, playing in attack with Wilmots, twice almost put them in front with towering headers.

Bart Goor should have shot the European side in front after 36 minutes but he fired wastefully wide when the ball fell perfectly to him from 10 metres out.

Wilmots squandered a good chance at the start of the second period but twisted acrobatically to beat Japan goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki in the 57th minute after Japan failed to clear their lines.

It seemed the floodgates would open but Japan struck back within two minutes when Belgian defender Van der Heyden left Inamoto's through ball and Suzuki poked it past a stranded Geert De Vlieger.

The stadium exploded in noise as Japan celebrated only their second ever goal at a World Cup tournament.

Nine minutes later they sensationally took the lead when Inamoto won the ball, raced on to the return and beat De Vlieger in fine style.

But Van der Heyden's lobbed effort after 75 minutes saved the day for Belgium.

Russia play their first group H match against Tunisia in Kobe on Wednesday.

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