• Kyodo

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Japan kicked off 2005 with a 4-0 thrashing of Kazakstan on Saturday in the first of two friendlies ahead of its crucial World Cup qualifier against mysterious North Korea.

Japan dominated from the outset in freezing rain at International Stadium Yokohama and were 3-0 up at the interval thanks to goals from Keiji Tamada, Naoki Matsuda and Alessandro Santos.

Kashiwa Reysol striker Tamada grabbed his second of the game and seventh in a Japan shirt to seal the win for Zico’s men just after the hour mark.

Japan faces Syria in Saitama on Wednesday before it takes on North Korea in a politically charged affair on Feb. 9, also in Saitama, that kicks off its final phase of qualifiers for a place at the 2006 finals in Germany.

“We made a lot of chances tonight and scored goals and it is a great start to the year for us,” said Zico.

The Asian champion needed only four minutes to open the scoring as Tamada, one of Japan’s heroes at the Asian Cup in China last summer, rifled home after a layoff from Mitsuo Ogasawara.

Matsuda, starting in place of captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, then doubled the lead with his first goal in 40 national team appearances from a Santos corner, before the Brazilian-born winger made it three with a free-kick in the 24th minute.

Kazakstan, now moved from Asia to UEFA, looked uninterested for most of the first period and its first serious effort on goal, a free-kick from Dias Kamelov, sailed aimlessly over the bar.

Japan could have easily been two goals further ahead within five minutes of the restart through national team debutant Yuki Abe and a cheeky back-heel from Tamada.

But pint-sized striker Tamada made no mistake to grab Japan’s fourth of the game, beating the Kazak goalkeeper with a first-time finish after a clever pass from the industrious Ogasawara.

Japan’s Feb. 9 match against North Korea opens its World Cup qualifying campaign. Bahrain and Iran are its other opponents in Group B in the eight-team competition.

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