Substitute Takuma Nishimura equalized with his first touch to give Japan a 1-1 draw with Uruguay in an international friendly at Tokyo's National Stadium on Friday, as the Samurai Blue played for the first time since the World Cup in Qatar.
Uruguay captain and Real Madrid star Federico Valverde headed in the 38th-minute opener in front of 61,855 on a rainy night in the Japanese capital before Yokohama F Marinos forward Nishimura answered in the 75th minute, slotting home fellow substitute Junya Ito's cross from the right wing.
After stunning the world by grabbing 2-1 comeback wins over Germany and Spain to reach the knockout phase in Qatar, Hajime Moriyasu's 20th-ranked Japan showed promise but had to settle for a draw against a new-look No. 16 Uruguay side.
"It's disappointing we couldn't win," said Moriyasu, whose substitutions paid off. "I told the players there would likely be good crosses coming in, and to get on the end of them. We still have lots to work on with our buildup plays."
Ayumu Seko of Grasshoppers debuted in the center of defense alongside Ko Itakura, while AZ Alkmaar's Yukinari Sugawara made his second national team appearance at right-back for Japan, who were without Takefusa Kubo due to COVID-19 protocols.
Brighton star Kaoru Mitoma, a second-half substitute in all of Japan's four games in Qatar, was handed a start on the left and energized the home fans minutes into the match with long bursts from his own half. Takuma Asano's low shot hit the side netting from a tight angle following a perfect through ball from the side by Sugawara.
Daichi Kamada's blushes were spared after some uncharacteristic mistakes, while intricate Japanese passing moves released Ritsu Doan inside the box twice, but neither opportunity resulted in a shot before Valverde gave Uruguay the lead against the run of play.
A deflected cross from the right fell just outside the box and the attacker crashed a half-volley onto the right-hand post before nodding the rebound into an empty net.
Uruguay were without key players Fernando Musrela, Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez and Edinson Cavani, who were serving suspensions incurred for misconduct following their World Cup exit, while star forward Luis Suarez was also missing.
Mitoma again provided Japan with a spark with a superb run from inside his own half nine minutes after the break, but Asano failed to get a clean shot before Ayase Ueda replaced the forward just past the hour mark, when Doan also left for Junya Ito, whose pace down the right immediately won a corner that was wasted.
The two substitutes soon combined as Ito sneaked into the box, receiving a return ball from Ueda before being brought down, but the referee overturned his penalty decision upon video review.
Ao Tanaka and Nishimura came on with a quarter of an hour to go and Nishimura scored straight away after Ito sent in a perfect first-time cross to the unmarked forward, who made no mistake with his left-foot effort.
"It was something we did in yesterday's training. I was speaking with Junya and he told me to get into that position," Nishimura said of his goal. "That was exactly how it went."
Uruguay substitute Facundo Torres' 85th-minute strike from close range hit the left upright as the two sides played out an entertaining draw.
The result left Japan with two wins, three draws and four defeats against Uruguay. They next face Colombia, who did not qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, in another friendly on Tuesday at Osaka's Yodoko Sakura Stadium.