Japan rallies to 2-2 draw with New Zealand

Aug. 06, 2008, 8:16 a.m. (ET)

QINHUANGDAO, China(AP) Midfielders Aya Miyama and Homare Sawa scored second-half goals Wednesday to rally Japan to a 2-2 draw with New Zealand in their opening match of the women's football competition.

New Zealand, making its Olympic debut in the event, took the lead in the 33rd minute when forward Alexandra Riley slipped past defender Miyuki Yanagit and sent a low ball across to Kirsty Yallop, who calmly tapped it in.

South African referee Deidre Mitchell then awarded a penalty kick after players tumbled in the box on a New Zealand corner kick in the 57th minute, and forward Amber Hearn converted the ensuing penalty.

``Today, we didn't perform very well,'' New Zealand coach John Herdman said. ``I'm dissatisfied because when you're 2-0 up, you expect three points.''

In many ways, New Zealand was lucky to come away with one point.

Japan dominated possession throughout the match and created a handful of solid scoring opportunities, but struggled to crack New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon for most of the match.

Japan's first opportunity came in the 18th minute, when forwards Shinobu Ohno and Yuki Nagasato worked a nifty give-and-go. Ohno ran onto in the ball in the box, but pushed her low, right-footed shot just past the far post.

Six minutes later, Mizuho Sakaguchi found room at the top of the area after a scramble in the box to fire a right-footed drive right at Bindon.

Japan should have taken the lead in the 33rd, when Ohno latched onto a long-ball and raced in alone on goal. But Bindon quickly stepped out to cut down the angle pushed Ohno's left-footed shot wide with her finger tips.

Forced to continue pushing forward, Japan finally pulled one back in the 73rd after Mitchell awarded another penalty kick after Abby Erceg pushed Mizuho Sakaguchi in the area. Miyama slotted the ensuing penalty just inside the right post and past a diving Bindon.

``In the first half we didn't perform very well,'' Japan coach Norio Sasaki said through a translator. ``The penalty gave us a lot of encouragement and cheered the team up.''

Japan continued to push forward in the final 20 minutes in search of an equalizer, and got it on a brilliant goal from captain Sawa in the 86th.

Miyama curled a free kick in from the right side that Sawa jumped up and knocked with her right foot just inside the near post.

``They have problems finishing, and we knew they would need 10 chances to score three goals,'' Herdman said.

But the New Zealand coach acknowledged that his team wore down as the game dragged on and Japan found its rhythm in the attack.

``You could see the writing on the wall,'' he said.

New Zealand was lucky to hang on for the hard-earned draw.

In the game's closing minutes, Ohno knocked a volley from 10 meters (yards) onto the bar, and minutes later midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi headed a cross from Miyama just wide.

Japan plays the United States next in Group G, while New Zealand takes on Norway.