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Uchida spares Japan blushes vs Cyprus Belgium on fire

SAITAMA, Japan, May 27, (Agencies): Defender Atsuto Uchida spared Japan’s blushes with a 43rd-minute winner as the Asian champions struggled to a uninspiring 1-0 win against Cyprus in their final home World Cup warm-up Tuesday. Japan, who looked heavy-legged after a punishing training camp last week, face Ivory Coast in their opening game at the World Cup in Brazil on June 14. Right-back Uchida broke the deadlock in Saitama when he stabbed home a loose ball after Shinji Kagawa’s close-range effort had been blocked, registering only his second goal in 66 internationals. “It was nice to score coming back from injury,” said Uchida, who celebrated his strike by sprinting to the touchline to hug Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni. “I wanted to show gratitude to the people who stuck by me when I was hurt.” With Cyprus defending stubbornly, a clever step-over from Kagawa brought the crowd of 58,000 to their feet, only for Keisuke Honda to waste Japan’s only other chance of a scrappy first half.

Kagawa and captain Makoto Hasebe went close as Japan showed more urgency after the break but ultimately lacked the cutting edge Zaccheroni had demanded before the match. Japan, who also play Greece and Colombia in Group C, have further friendlies against Costa Rica on June 2 and Zambia on June 6 in Tampa before flying to Brazil. Japan stormed through Asian qualifying to secure a fifth successive World Cup appearance, finishing four points clear of Australia at the top of their final-round group. The ‘Blue Samurai’ reached the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Belgium 5, Luxembourg 1
In Genk, Belgium won for the first time in five matches on Monday with a Romelu Lukaku hat-trick securing a 5-1 friendly win over a Luxembourg side ranked 100 places below them. Three weeks before their World Cup opener, Belgium showed off the neat passing that has prompted many to tip them to do well in Brazil and also blooded three debutants, including 19-year-old Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj. However, the defensive lapse that allowed a Luxembourg equaliser will encourage World Cup rivals Algeria, Russia and South Korea that they can upset the Group H favourites. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but it was the first game in three weeks. I wasn’t so happy with organisation in the first half,” said coach Marc Wilmots. “We had a reaction in the second half. We were perhaps a bit nonchalant. But we still have three weeks to go.”

A catalogue of keeper injuries and the absence of number one Thibaut Courtois, recovering from Saturday’s Champions League final, meant a first cap for Sammy Bossut, one of only three squad members still playing in Belgium. Otherwise, Belgium, set to play in their first World Cup since 2002, began with a line-up that may well start their tournament opener against Algeria on June 17. When Lukaku struck in the third minute it looked like being a very tough night for the visitors, but 10 minutes later they equalised when Aurelien Joachim, who plays for Dutch side RKC Waalwijk, span off Thomas Vermaelen and fired in. It was perhaps the wake-up call a slightly sleepy Belgium required, allowing Lukaku to score his first international hat-trick. He had the doggedness of Marouane Fellaini to thank for his opener, a failed Luxembourg clearance for his second, while he dribbled through the defence for his third.

Belgium brought on five substitutes at half-time, giving a debut to Januzaj, who only declared his allegiance to Belgium a month ago. Lille’s Divock Origi, another uncapped teenager in the squad, replaced Lukaku on the hour mark. Substitute Nacer Chadli scored Belgium’s fourth while Kevin De Bruyne converted a 91st minute penalty. Belgium will fly to Stockholm on Tuesday for a training camp ending with a friendly against Sweden on Sunday in which Wilmots said he would try to simulate more of a World Cup feel with fewer substitutes. After a few days at the Belgian coast, they play a warm-up match against Tunisia in Brussels before boarding their plane to Sao Paolo on June 10 and a match behind closed door against the United States two days later.

Iran 0, Montenegro 0
In Hartberg, Austria, Iran was held to 0-0 by Montenegro in a friendly on Monday for its second straight goalless draw in the buildup to the World Cup. Iran, which played Belarus eight days ago, lost Hashem Beikzadeh early in the match. The defender limped off the field with an apparent right leg injury after 15 minutes. Midfielder Ashkan Dejagah came closest for Iran with a curling free kick that forced Montenegro keeper Mladen Bozovic to a diving safe in the 28th minute, while captain Javad Nekounam saw his header go just wide in the 40th. Iran play Angola at the same venue in Austria on Friday and have a final warmup game against Trinidad and Tobago in Sao Paulo on June 8 before taking on Nigeria, Argentina and Bosnia-Hercegovina in Group F.

Cameroon 2, Macedonia 0
In Kufstein, Austria, striker Pierre Webo picked up a left shoulder injury while scoring Cameroon’s first goal in a 2-0 victory over Macedonia in a warmup game for the World Cup. Webo beat Macedonia goalkeeper Tome Pacovski with an acrobatic bicycle kick in the 52nd minute but landed on his arm and thus left the field immediately. The Fenerbahce striker, who scored his 18th goal in 54 international matches, had his left arm in a sling though there was no immediate information on the extent of his injury. In the 84th, Maxim Choupo-Moting scored with a low shot after loose defending by Macedonia to double Cameroon’s lead. Coach Volker Finke’s team, which has been drawn in Group A with Mexico, Croatia and host Brazil, was without its key striker Samuel Eto’o, who is recovering from a knee injury.

Choupo-Moting had hit the crossbar with a thundering strike in the 17th minute, Cameroon’s best scoring opportunity in the first half. Cameroon keeper Guy N’Dy Assembe, who replaced Sammy N’Djock at half-time, prevented Macedonia’s Blaze Ilioski from scoring after a counter attack by the Europeans in the 70th minute. Mohammadou Idrissou, who came on for Webo, was denied Cameroon’s third goal as keeper Pacovski pushed his powerful volley over the crossbar in injury time. Cameroon play Paraguay in their next warmup game in Austria on Thursday.

Russia 1, Slovakia 0
In Moscow, Russia started its World Cup preparations with a 1-0 win over Slovakia in St. Petersburg. The match was a largely drab affair before Zenit St. Petersburg striker Alexander Kerzhakov nodded in debutant Maxim Kannunikov’s cross on 82 minutes as the Slovakian defense failed to react. Russia coach Fabio Capello picked a relatively conservative team in which the main absentee was injured captain Roman Shirokov, replaced in the starting line-up by playmaker Alan Dzagoev. Besides winger Kannunikov, uncapped midfielder Pavel Mogilevets was a late substitute. Playing at the World Cup for the first time in 12 years, Russia will take on South Korea, Belgium and Algeria in the group stage. Russia’s other warm-ups are against Norway on Saturday and Morocco on June 5.

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