SAITAMA, Japan (AP) – Maya Yoshida scored late in stoppage time to give an undermanned Japan a dramatic 1-0 home win over North Korea in their World Cup qualifier Friday.
In a clash of two teams that both qualified for the previous World Cup, Japan could not crack the Koreans' trademark resolute defense until Yoshida headed in a cross in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Japan won despite being without injured trio Keisuke Honda, Kengo Nakamura and Yuto Nagatomo but Alberto Zaccheroni's side was still able to extend its unbeaten run under the Italian coach to 14 games.
''The North Koreans gave everything they had and we were forced to play patiently,'' Zaccheroni said. ''But at the end of the day, it was rewarding that we made it in the end.''
The Blue Samurai, which beat South Korea 3-0 in a friendly last month, struggled to rediscover that form Friday. Despite creating many chances, the reigning Asian champions were not able to convert any against until the dying moments.
North Korea played the last 10 minutes of regular time then stoppage time with ten men after substitute forward Park Kwang-Ryong was sent off for a clattering studs-up challenge.
Yosuke Kashiwagi helped produce Japan's best chance of the first half, sending a long ball in to a leaping Tadanari Lee, who headed the ball into the arms of North Korea goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk in the 31st minute.
Just moments later, Japan's Shinji Kagawa had a good look from just outside the box, but fired wide right of the North Korea goal.
Ri was injured in the 35th minute in a goalmouth scramble, and had to have his right ankle taped up by the medical staff, but remained on the field and limped visibly the rest of the game.
North Korea went to the break with the game 0-0 despite not having had a single shot on goal.
Shortly after play restarted, Japan captain Makoto Hasebe launched a laser strike that Ri gathered on his knees.
Hiroshi Kiyotake had a pair of decent chances for Japan within a minute in the second half. In the 63rd, he uncorked a strike that appeared headed for a goal but was deflected at the last second by a defender. A few seconds later, he squandered another opportunity by firing over the bar.
Striker Mike Havenaar - of Dutch parents who emigrated to Japan - made his debut for the Blue Samurai in the 69th minute, and wasted little time in making an impact, rattling a cross off the bar from 10 meters out in the 74th.
Shinji Okazaki sent a header close in the 80th, only to see Ri dive to knock it away.