Japan’s World Cup hopefuls fluffed their lines in their final audition for this summer’s finals on Wednesday as the three-time Asian champions crashed to a 3-0 defeat at home to Serbia. A pair of first-half strikes from Dragan Mrda put Serbia in control and a free kick on the hour mark from Nemanja Tomic sealed a result that triggered a cascade of boos from a crowd of over 46,000 in Osaka and puts renewed pressure on coach Takeshi Okada.
The friendly was supposed to be serving as the last test for fringe players such as Kashima Antlers striker Shinzo Koroki and Yokohama F Marinos defender Yuzo Kurihara before Okada names his final squad for South Africa. But the 53-year-old coach was left with more questions than answers after a toothless display at Nagai Stadium.
Serbia, fielding a second-string lineup, should have taken the lead after just four minutes when Mrda sprung the offside trap but hit the post with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Mrda was given a second bite at the cherry after Koroki lost possession in midfield and the 26-year-old striker kept his head to control Radosav Petrovic’s long ball over the top and prod past Seigo Narazaki.
Japan twice went close to leveling in the space of 60 seconds but Serbia goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic produced an acrobatic cave to push away Shinji Okazaki’s shot and then got down well to keep out Kurihara’s header from the resultant corner on 21 minutes.
Okada’s men could not keep the lively Mrda under wraps though and he made it 2-0 from close range after Narazaki had blocked his initial shot in a goalmouth scramble.
Koroki made way for the more experienced Keiji Tamada and Naohiro Ishikawa replaced Kurihara after halftime and with shades of offside, Ishikawa shot straight at Brkic.
World Cup-bound Serbia then put the game out of reach when Tomic fired his free kick over Japan’s wall and into Narazaki’s bottom right-hand corner.
Japan face South Korea on May 24 at Saitama Stadium 2002 in a send-off match before the team leaves for a pre-World Cup training camp in Switzerland.
Japan then squares off against England on May 30 in Austria before taking on the Ivory Coast in Switzerland on June 4, a match that will provide Okada’s men with the opportunity to take on African opponents before they face Cameroon in their World Cup opener on June 14.
Japan has also been drawn against the Netherlands and Denmark in Group E.