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Japan eases to routine win in their Asian Cup opener

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-01-12 20:18

Japan eases to routine win in their Asian Cup opener

Palestine's Ahmed Mahajna (R) pulls on the jersey of Japan's Keisuke Honda during their Asian Cup Group D soccer match at the Newcastle Stadium in Newcastle January 12, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

MELBOURNE - Japan barely broke sweat as they began their Asian Cup campaign with a simple victory, outclassing Palestine 4-0 in Newcastle on Monday.

Two goals inside the first 25 minutes from Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Okazaki got Samurai Blue off to the perfect start, before a Keisuke Honda penalty effectively sealed the result prior to half time.

Maya Yoshida then completed the scoring and made it four early in the second half, before Palestinian defender Ahmed Mahajna earned the tournament's first red card after picking up two separate bookings.

Later in the day, Iraq also opened their account with a hard fought 1-0 victory over Jordan, putting them in a fantastic position to qualify alongside Japan in Group D.

A slice of history was being made in Newcastle in Monday's first match, with Palestine competing in the first game of their first major international tournament. But they were bound to be nervous and, just eight minutes in, Japan took advantage of their hesitancy.

Endo was not closed down when released into space 25 yards from goal and was allowed the time to pick his spot and place the ball in the bottom corner.

It had been a sloppy start from Japan, but their far superior quality was clear to see. On 25 minutes, they doubled their advantage when Okazaki turned in Shinji Kagawa's powerful shot with a header requiring superb reflexes.

Japan had barely shifted out of second gear throughout the first half, but they'd hardly needed to. Just three minutes before the interval, Honda notched a third from the spot.

Palestinian defender Musab Battat gave away the foul when he shoved Kagawa in the back. Honda stepped up, sending Ramzi Saleh the wrong way from 12 yards to make it 3-0 at half time.

The pattern continued in the second period, with Yoshida adding a fourth just four minutes after the restart. The Southampton defender rose the highest to meet a pinpoint cross, nodding his effort beyond the reach of Saleh.

If Palestine's job of restoring confidence was not hard enough, it soon became much more difficult. With just under 20 minutes remaining, Mahajna was sent off for a cynical challenge in which he earned his second booking, reducing the Palestinians to 10 men.

But, to their credit, Palestine continued to battle and nearly found their first ever Asian Cup goal. Abdallatif Al Bahdari threw himself to meet a header, but fired his effort just off target from close range.

Japan nearly added a late fifth goal when Hiroshi Kiyotake, Honda and Yohei Toyoda were all denied in a goal-mouth scramble, while Makoto Hasebe also had a glancing header kept out by Saleh.

However, it would have made little difference to the final result, with Japan clear and comfortable 4-0 winners.

In the later match, Iraq secured a crucial 1-0 win over Jordan thanks to Yaser Kasim's fantastic individual effort.

Following a slow start to the match, Iraq had a brilliant opportunity to take the lead after 15 minutes. Younus Mahmood was played in on goal following Yaser's threaded pass, however Jordanian defender Tareq Khattab brilliantly closed down the shot, deflecting it wide.

Overall, it was a half of few chances, with both teams struggling on a Brisbane pitch criticized by China manager Alain Perrin just a few days earlier.

Perrin had described the surface as "very, very, very bad" and it again proved a hindrance, as both sides lacked quality in the final third of the pitch.

The second period began in similar fashion, with chances few and far between. Jordan had struggled to make an impact early in the match, but slowly worked their way into the contest and nearly broke the deadlock in fortuitous circumstances.

From Oday Zahran's cross, Iraqi defender Ahmed Ibrahim glanced a header agonizingly over the bar, narrowly avoiding what would have been an embarrassing own-goal.

In an attritional contest, it always appeared as though it was going to take something special to finally break the drought. Fortunately for Iraq, Yaser provided that with 13 minutes remaining.

With a lovely individual run, the midfielder weaved his way through a packed Jordanian defence and shot past a helpless goalkeeper via a slight deflection.

Jordan's frustrations were quick to boil over. Lunging in with a reckless challenge, Anas Bani Yaseen earned a second yellow card and was shown his marching orders to make life especially difficult for Ray Wilkins' side.

From there, it was comfortable for Iraq to hold on and deliver a potentially decisive victory.


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