TOYOTA, AICHI PREF. – Japan launched its 2012 Olympic qualifying campaign with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Kuwait but was left to rue an unnecessarily conceded goal to the Gulf visitors on Sunday night.
Hiroshi Kiyotake and Mizuki Hamada scored in the opening half for the under-22 national side at Toyota Stadium, and Yuya Osako added the third on the other side of halftime.
But substitute Jaber Jazea chiseled at Japan’s lead shortly past the hour with what could turn out to be a crucial away goal for Maher Alshemmari’s side.
The second leg in the home-and-away contest is on Thursday.
“That was disappointing,” Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka said, referring to the Kuwaiti goal. “We held on to the ball for a lot longer than we should have, and they got us.”
The two teams went into the interval with Japan leading by two, but the hosts should have been up by more given the way they dominated throughout the first half.
With the Kuwait defenders giving them plenty of room to operate, Japan could have — and should have — been ahead by twice as many had it exercised a little more accuracy in front of the goal.
Striker Kensuke Nagai started the game on the bench with a sprained left ankle yet Sekizuka never needed to call on the top scorer of last year’s Asian Games.
Forward Yousef Nasser, a Kuwaiti player with full international experience, was about the only consistent threat the Japanese defense had to deal with all evening.
Kiyotake pushed the young Blue Samurai in front in the 18th minute with his maiden goal for the Olympic team, a diving header into the bottom corner from a Yusuke Higa cross.
Hamada doubled Japan’s advantage after 37 minutes with a header of his own, nodding in a right-wing Kiyotake corner from the heart of the penalty area.
The second half was more of the same with Japan in control, and Osako made it 3-0 one minute past the hour off a Kuwaiti mistake, slotting home a through-ball from Ryohei Yamazaki.
But just when Japan looked like it was going to cruise, Kuwait pulled one back in the 68th minute through substitute Jazea, who pounced on a failed clearance with authority to close the gap.
The Japanese woke up after conceding and reasserted their dominance, but failed to stretch out their lead as they continued to waste opportunities.
Australia, S. Korea win
Striker Jason Hoffman scored twice as Australia beat Yemen 3-0 in the first match of a two-leg Olympic soccer qualifying tie on Sunday.
Mitch Nichols also scored to give Australia a buffer to take into the second leg of the series at Newcastle on Thursday.
Isaka Cernak and Nichols directed play from midfield and Hoffman provided a constant aerial threat for the strong Australia lineup that restricted Yemen to sporadic counterattacks.
Australia had several off-target shots before Hoffman headed home Sebastian Ryall’s cross in the 14th minute. Nichols added the second from close range in the 67th minute and Hoffman netted the third in stoppage time.
In Seoul, South Korea defeated Jordan 3-1.
Midfielder Yoon Bit Garam scored the winner from the penalty spot in the 75th minute and Kim Dong Sub added a header 10 minutes later.