COLOGNE, Germany, June 22 (Reuters) - World champions Brazil
thwarted a late Japan fightback to claim a nail-biting 2-2 draw
on Wednesday and line up a Confederations Cup semi-final against
Brazil, leading 2-1 with goals from Robinho and Ronaldinho,
were stunned when Masashi Oguro fired home a rebound with two
minutes to go after Shunsuke Nakamura's free kick had hit the
Japan roared forward and Marcos had to make a point-blank
save from Oguro in injury-time to secure the draw Brazil needed
to claim second place in Group B on goal difference, earning the
semi-final against the hosts in Nuremberg on Saturday.
Group B winners Mexico will face Argentina in the second
semi-final in Hanover on Sunday.
Japan, coached by former Brazil midfielder Zico and playing
a style of football in keeping with his legacy, were fearless,
even as the world champions attacked with pace and guile in the
'We were playing to win,' Zico said. 'To nearly beat Brazil
one year before the World Cup shows that we've come a long way.'
With Robinho and Kaka cutting in from the wings and
Ronaldinho bringing the ball forward at dizzying speed, Japan
looked in danger of conceding every time they lost possession.
Brazil, their place in the semi-finals on the line after a
1-0 defeat by Mexico, looked more comfortable after taking the
lead in the 10th minute.
Ronaldinho's close control took two defenders out of the
game in his own half.
The Barcelona forward glided forward and calmly waited for
Robinho to complete an angled run before playing the pass. The
Santos forward duly beat the keeper with a precise shot.
Japan, who finished the group in third place on four points,
were unlucky not to go ahead in the fourth minute when Akira
Kaji outpaced the defence and beat Marcos, only to be pulled up
for what looked an incorrect offside flag.
Mitsuo Ogasawara's header from a free kick then bounced on
the goal line and out before Nakamura struck the equaliser,
crashing in a shot from more than 30 metres to leave Marcos,
recalled in place of Dida, with no chance on 27 minutes.
Brazil stepped up a gear and reclaimed the lead five minutes
later when Kaka fed Robinho on the left and he picked out
Ronaldinho, who poked a shot that deflected in off the keeper.
The South Americans were electric up front but too often
Japan survived the rest of the half and almost levelled at
the start of the second when Marcos saved at the feet of Oguro.
A few minutes later Cicinho had to clear off the line from
Nakamura as Japan grew in confidence.
Brazil continued to create chances but lost their cool and
would have surrendered their place in the semi-finals but for
the last-gasp intervention of Marcos.