NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND // Japan's hopes of breaking their 20-year Rugby World Cup winless streak were ruined as a last-minute penalty by Ander Monro, Canada's fly-half, left the two sides to settle for a 23-23 draw.
It was the second successive World Cup that the two teams have registered a draw, Japan needing a last-gasp conversion to tie the scores at 12 points apiece at the 2007 tournament.
Monro, who had taken over kicking duties from the injured full-back James Pritchard, had a terrible match with the boot, but showed enough steel to bang over a 79th minute penalty to level the sides after also crossing for a try he had failed to convert.
Tries from Shota Horie and Kosuke Endo allied with 13 points from the boot of James Arlidge had put Japan in the driving seat and seemingly ready to make up for previous Pool A losses to France (47-21), Tonga (31-18) and New Zealand (83-7).
But it was not to be as Japan's early tenacious defence, led magnificently by the centre Ryan Nicholas, faded towards the end of a match that had an almost festival feel to it.
"Sort of a tough one," Pat Riordan, the Canada captain, said. "We started well ... then they got a couple of penalties. But we put up a great fight at the end and got a couple of points.
"The job is done. We close the chapter and get on with the next one [against the All Blacks]."
Japan coach John Kirwan commented: "Don't know whether to be happy or sad but the boys played their hearts out. Just a few errors in the second half cost us."
The match opened at a frantic pace, DTH Van der Merwe chopped down just short of the line by arguably the tap tackle of the tournament so far from the Japan full-back Shaun Webb.
Van der Merwe got a try soon after, however, bumping a tackle to go in under the posts which Pritchard converted.
But Japan came roaring back, the hooker Horie driven over the line after Alisi Tupuailai's off load, Arlidge adding the extras to equal the scores.
Arlidge added a penalty in the 25th minute, but Monro's first effort came back off the post.
Japan then took command of the match, seeking to run everything and when Canada attacked to employ a ferocious offensive defence.
A flustered, leaden-footed Canada were particularly lax at the breakdown and suffered a number of turnovers because of the hard-hitting tackles.
John Kirwan's side spurned a couple of kicks for goal in a bid for a try before the half-time hooter.
And they were rewarded when a well-worked switch-move between Arlidge and Nicholas in midfield saw Endo slicing through some feeble defence for a try Arlidge again converted to make it 17-7 at half time.
Canada enjoyed the best possible start to the second period, Phil Mackenzie riding a terrible tackle by the replacement Bryce Robins to sprint in from 35 metres. Monro missed the conversion to leave the score 17-12 to Japan.
When the Japanese defence strayed offside in the 64th minute, Monro kicked his first penalty to cut his team's deficit to two points.
Arlidge restored the five-point lead a minute later and the New Zealand-born fly-half stretched the score to 23-15 with a 73rd minute penalty, meaning Canada had to score twice to regain the lead.
In a nail-biting finish, Monro then crashed over the line as the Japanese cover defence was found wanting.
He missed the conversion but managed a trickier penalty with just 90 seconds to play to draw the teams level at 23-23, with Arlidge's desperate drop goal drifting short and wide.