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Football: Japan struggle to win against Cyprus

Defender Atsuto Uchida spared Japan's blushes with a 43rd-minute winner as the Asian champions struggled to a uninspiring 1-0 win against Cyprus in their final home World Cup warm-up Tuesday.

SAITAMA, Japan: Defender Atsuto Uchida spared Japan's blushes with a 43rd-minute winner as the Asian champions struggled to a uninspiring 1-0 win against Cyprus in their final home World Cup warm-up Tuesday.

Japan, who looked heavy-legged after a punishing training camp last week, face Ivory Coast in their opening game at the World Cup in Brazil on June 14.

Right-back Uchida broke the deadlock in Saitama when he stabbed home a loose ball after Shinji Kagawa's close-range effort had been blocked, registering only his second goal in 66 internationals.

"It was nice to score coming back from injury," said Uchida, who celebrated his strike by sprinting to the touchline to hug Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

"I wanted to show gratitude to the people who stuck by me when I was hurt."

With Cyprus defending stubbornly, a clever step-over from Kagawa brought the crowd of 58,000 to their feet, only for Keisuke Honda to waste Japan's only other chance of a scrappy first half.

Kagawa and captain Makoto Hasebe went close as Japan showed more urgency after the break but ultimately lacked the cutting edge Zaccheroni had demanded before the match.

Japan, who also play Greece and Colombia in Group C, have further friendlies against Costa Rica on June 2 and Zambia on June 6 in Tampa before flying to Brazil.

Japan stormed through Asian qualifying to secure a fifth successive World Cup appearance, finishing four points clear of Australia at the top of their final-round group.

The 'Blue Samurai' reached the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

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