• Kyodo

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Japan made a winning start to the year with a 2-1 defeat of Yemen in a final-round qualifier for the 2011 Asian Cup on Tuesday.

Tatsuya Tanaka set up Shinji Okazaki for the opener on seven minutes before the pint-sized Urawa Reds striker highlighted a turbo-charged performance with the winner after Yemen had leveled through Zaher Farid in the Group A opener at KK Wing Stadium.

“We had young players out there who had no shortage of motivation, (but) we really should have had two or three more goals,” said Japan manager Takeshi Okada, who fielded a new-look side in the absence of several regulars.

“But this was a competitive game not a friendly, and we knew it wouldn’t be so easy. I appreciate what the players did in getting the result,” he added.

Okazaki broke the deadlock when he drilled home Tanaka’s drag back from the edge of the box, but Japan was unable to make any further inroads despite creating a host of chances in the first period.

The Yemenis had posed little threat but drew level two minutes into the second half when Farid rose unchallenged to power home a free kick from Ala Al-Sasi.

However, the Gulf side’s joy proved short-lived as the ubiquitous Tanaka arrived at the far post to stoop and head home in the 65th minute after Okazaki had flicked on Kengo Nakamura’s cross.

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