A Chris Wood brace helped a youthful and understrength All Whites side recover from a horror start and record a creditable 4-2 loss to Japan in Tokyo this morning (NZT).
It had looked as if Neil Emblen's coaching debut would end in embarrassing fashion as the World Cup-bound Samurai Blue led 4-0 within just 17 minutes, aided by some awful New Zealand defending.
But Leicester City striker Wood scored two quality goals, in the 39th and 80th minutes, to save the All Whites' blushes in New Zealand's first international action since November's 9-3 aggregate loss to Mexico in the World Cup qualifiers.
It took just four minutes for the hosts to open the scoring through Mainz 05 forward Shinji Okazaki, who finished with a double.
Midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who has been on the outer with struggling English Premier League club Manchester United, launched a long ball from near the halfway line, which should have been easily dealt with by the All Whites' defence.
Okazaki got in behind 18-year-old left back Bill Tuiloma but at first failed to control Kagawa's pass.
Tuiloma's pace allowed him to recover and get to the bouncing ball but neither he nor advancing goalkeeper Glen Moss actually cleared the danger as Okazaki took advantage of the communication breakdown to poke home.
Just three minutes later Kagawa won, then converted, a penalty in front of a fired-up National Olympic Stadium, shooting low and left past first-time All Whites captain Moss.
It was hard to watch, and the shell-shocked All Whites were hit with a third goal in the 11th minute as defender Masato Morishige scored for the first time in international football.
Morishige got in between Wood and Andrew Durante to head in a free kick whipped in by AC Milan star Keisuke Honda.
And there was worse to come as Okazaki grabbed his second, finishing a sweeping movement involving the two glamour boys, Kagawa and Honda.
Kagawa ran at the backtracking defence before linking with Honda, who flicked a clever backheel through to Okazaki.
Moss will be gutted he didn't do more to deny his left-footed shot and former All Whites assistant Emblen must have been wondering what he'd signed up for.
But the visitors then discovered the fighting Kiwi spirit that Emblen had asked for - although Japan were perhaps content to rest on their laurels.
Wood scored his first from an acute angle after taking advantage of a fortuitous deflection deep inside the box.
He completed his double in spectacular fashion, volleying in a cross from midfielder Tim Payne.
"I wish it had started 10 minutes into the game because for 80 minutes we were pretty competitive," Emblen said.
"Scored a couple of good goals and put in a good performance in my mind. But when you make mistakes, individual errors, communication mistakes and good finishing from Japan, the game was already over.
"And that was the most unfortunate thing for us because we were a little bit shell-shocked and unfortunately we couldn't start the game how we wanted to. We showed over the 90 minutes we are a good team but unfortunately it was too late."
Meanwhile, the Football Ferns opened their Cyprus Cup campaign with a 1-1 draw against Ireland.
Hannah Wilkinson scored a late equaliser in the 87th minute.
- Fairfax Media
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