Alberto Zaccheroni's men dominated the game, but needed 94 minutes to score against a very well organized North Korea defenceIn front of a packed Saitama 2002 Stadium, Japan struggled to a 1-0 victory over a very defensive North Korean eleven.
Alberto Zaccheroni fielded Yosuke Kashiwagi instead of injured Keisuke Honda, while North Korea's starting line-up featured three J.Leaguers, including Jong Tae-Se - who once again shed tears during the North Korean anthem.
During a windy and rainy first half, the Koreans posed no threat to Japan, but fiercely defended, frustrating most of Japan's combinations.
The home side managed a few half-chances, and went very close to an opener only with a back-header by Tadanari Lee. For the rest, Zaccheroni's men dominated possession and collected a few corner-kicks, but seldom gave any trouble to Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk.
Some ten minutes into the second half, Yun Jong-Su decided to give a chance to 18-year-old Pak Kwang-Ryong. Zaccheroni answered with Hiroshi Kiyotake for Kashiwagi, with Shinji Kagawa moving to the middle, the same position he usually occupies at Borussia Dortmund.
The effects were immediate, with Japan pushing North Korea in their last 20 metres and Kiyotake almost scoring with a shot deflected by a defender in front of the goal.
Striker Mike Havenaar, who was born in the Netherlands, made his debut for the Samurai Blue half-way through the second half, as the game had become a one-way siege to the Korean goal.
Yoshihito Endo shaved the post with one of his trademarked free-kicks, Havenaar was unlucky to slam a powerful shot onto the crossbar, and Shinji Okazaki's header with ten minutes left was countered by a great save by Ri Myong-Guk.
Pak Kwang-Ryong was shown a red card before the end, for a brutal tackle on Endo, but despite the numerical superiority and another crossbar hit by Yasuyuki Konno the match seemed to be doomed to end with a scoreless draw.
Maya Yoshida gave the goal Japan chased for over ninety minutes with a header after a corner kick.
The home team dominated the game but badly missed the steady contribution of Honda. A disappointing result for North Korea, as Yun Jong-Su defensive tactic almost earned his country a tie.