A devastating display of attacking soccer led by Sota Hirayama gave Japan Under-22s a 3-0 victory over their Syrian counterparts in a Beijing Olympics qualifier on Wednesday at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

News photoJapan forward Sota Hirayama scores the first of two goals in the 24th minute of the Olympic-qualifying
match against Syria on Wednesday at Tokyo’s National Stadium. Japan won 3-0.

FC Tokyo’s Hirayama capped a brilliant two-goal performance with the pick of an excellent bunch on 71 minutes, some staccato passing in the center of the park ending with the ball being released to the gangly striker, who showed great composure to race in and scoop the ball around ‘keeper Ali Shaban.

Gamba Osaka midfielder Akihiro Ienaga had opened the scoring on 16 minutes with a stunning shot from 25 meters that flew into the top corner, Hirayama doubling the lead eight minutes later with a crisp header off a free-kick from JEF United Chiba’s Koki Mizuno on the right.

There were chances galore to add to the scoreline, but the brilliant build-up play and invention of the players in creating those chances would have been a sight for sore eyes for coach Yasuharu Sorimachi, who had seen his men previously toil against minnows Hong Kong and Malaysia.

A win in Japan’s next game away to Syria on April 18 will ensure qualification for the final round of qualifying scheduled to begin late August.

After his side had come in for criticism after some less-than-impressive displays so far in qualifying, Sorimachi was pleased his charges were able shake off their prematch nerves and show what they were capable of.

“At the beginning they were unable to move the way that they wanted to, but 15 minutes in they were able to play at their usual tempo,” said Sorimachi.

“(But) just because we won, it doesn’t mean our work is done. From here on in we will have to prepare for when we are the visiting team (against Syria).”

Hirayama’s powerful display impressed Syria coach Abd Algane Tatesh.

“We knew about Hirayama and heard that he was a strong player,” said Tatesh. “I felt that he was the best player on the Japanese team. He plays aggressively and he knows what he is doing.”

The game, witnessed by 18,495 spectators, pulsated with attacking purpose from Japan in the first half and for much of the second. FC Tokyo midfielder Yohei Kajiyama was the first to show a willingness to shoot from distance early on, his low shot from 20 meters saved by Shaban.

Shaban, though, had no chance with Ienaga’s or Hirayama’s classy first-half goals.

Hirayama and Tadanari Ri, goal scorers in the 2-1 win away to Malaysia in the last qualifier, were both playing with a lot of confidence, Hirayama working well as a target man and Ri buzzing here and there.

Hirayama’s belief shone through when he picked up the ball just after the half-hour mark and cracked a shot from outside the area that flew over the stranded ‘keeper, only for the ball to canon back off the bar.

Shaban wouldn’t have been able to do anything about Hirayama’s shot on the hour mark, a venomous left-foot shot from the edge of the area, but the ball bounced off the upright.

After a quiet period, with Sorimachi’s men content to toy with the Syrians with some crisp passing, the game sprung to life with Hirayama’s second goal.

Two more delightful passing moves after the goal nearly brought Hirayama his hat trick, but the first culminated in the forward skewing wide, the second ending with his close-range shot being well saved by Shaban. Somehow, Japan was prevented from scoring a fourth.

The night, though, still belonged to the former Heracles Almelo forward.


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