Japan held by Venezuela

OITA, Japan - Substitute Hisato Sato squandered a golden late chance as World Cup-bound Japan were held 0-0 by Venezuela in a friendly on Tuesday.

The 'Blue Samurai' lacked the cutting edge to break down the visitors in a disappointing start to their World Cup preparations in chilly Oita.

Midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara, recalled after an absence of more than three years, went close from long range with the only real threat in a poor first half.

Junichi Inamoto also sliced a chance wide and forced the Venezuela goalkeeper into a smart save before Sato headed wide with the goal at his mercy in the 80th minute.

"Venezuela gave us a good test," Japan coach Takeshi Okada told reporters. "It's a shame we didn't get the win but you have to credit Venezuela. It was a good experience."

"We improved in the second half and it's a confidence boost for the East Asian championship (which begins in Tokyo at the weekend)."

Japan have never won a World Cup finals game on foreign soil and face Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark in the group stages in South Africa in June.

"The fact we didn't lose is a positive to take from the game," said Inamoto. "We know what we need to put right for the next game."