Japan lost their first match under new head coach Akira Nishino on Wednesday night, going down 2-0 to Ghana in the Samurai Blue’s final World Cup warmup on home soil.
Goals to Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey and Emmanuel Boateng secured the victory for Ghana in front of 64,520 at a rain-soaked Nissan Stadium.
Despite controlling possession for long stretches, the Samurai Blue were blunt in attack against a youthful Black Stars side, who were coming off an unsuccessful campaign to reach a fourth consecutive World Cup.
“Having not played a game at home in half a year, we absolutely wanted a good game just before the World Cup,” Nishino said. “With all that was going on, we gave it a good try, but the result is disappointing.”
“We did not start the game smoothly.”
After just two weeks working with his players, Nishino opted for experienced hands in a new defensive formation, picking a back three of Tomoaki Makino, Makoto Hasebe and Maya Yoshida in front of Metz custodian Eiji Kawashima.
Also in the starting 11 was veteran Keisuke Honda, whose selection fate has been the subject of intense scrutiny from media and fans. The Pachuca playmaker started at right forward, playing alongside Takashi Usami and behind target man Yuya Osako.
Ghana opened the scoring on the stroke of eight minutes after winning a free kick at the edge of the box, directly in front of goal. Partey struck his shot beneath the wall and past the diving Kawashima, delighting the small but vocal contingent of Ghana fans.
Honda demonstrated his value as a dead-ball specialist after winning a free kick in the 32nd minute. He took the kick himself and struck a dipping shot from 30 meters out that forced a diving save from Ghana goalkeeper Richard Ofori.
A halftime substitution for Osako, Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto almost made an immediate impact, hitting a shot wide of goal with less than a minute gone in the half.
Boateng doubled the lead for the visitors from the penalty spot in the 51st minute after he was brought down by Kawashima.
Japan spent much of the second half camped inside Ghana’s defensive area but were unable to find a finishing touch.
The Japan Football Association on Thursday will name its final 23-man squad for the World Cup starting June 14 in Russia.