AFC - Japan's Olympic team kicked off their final preparations for the qualifying phase for Athens 2004 with a 1-1 draw against Iran's Summer Games hopefuls at Saitama Stadium on Sunday night.
Debutant Sota Hirayama gave Japan the lead after just 19 minutes but, 16 minutes after the resumption, Eman Mobali equalized for Mohammad Mayelikohan's team to give both teams a share of the spoils.
"It was a good, exciting game and both teams fought well, going for victory," said Mayelikohan. "We saw some beautiful football and it was a very fair match.
"There were many scoring chances for both teams and it was good experience for all of us. I hope both teams can go to Athens and I think we are both good enough."
Both teams started in lively fashion, with Mehrzad Madanchi rattling the Japanese crossbar from 35 meters with a powerful left foot shot just six minutes into the game.
However, Hirayama - making his first start for the Olympic team - gave Japan the lead when he headed home from close range after a searing, jinking run by Tatsuya Tanaka. The Urawa Reds man tormented the Iranian back line before pulling back a perfectly flighted cross to Hirayama, who headed home from six yards out.
Iran pulled level through Mobali in the second half, the midfielder scoring with a sweetly-struck free kick 20 meters from goal after another Japanese debutant, Marcus Tulio Tanaka, was adjudged to have handled the ball.
Mayelikohan's side carried the greater threat as time wound down but, four minutes into injury time, Hirayama came close to claiming a winner. After controlling Keita Suzuki's deep pass with his chest, the 18-year-old volleyed goalward only to see Seyed Mahdi Rahmati pull off a top class save, tipping the ball over the bar.
"It would have been best if we had won but, given the condition of the players, it was good preparation for the final qualifiers," said Japan coach Masakuni Yamamoto.
"It was a hard contest with a lot of hard contact from Iran, which will have woken our players up."