INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – Japan launched its Asian Games campaign with victory on Sunday, the defending champion defeating Kuwait 4-1 in the men’s soccer competition.
Five days ahead of the opening ceremony of the 17th Games, Albirex Niigata forward Musashi Suzuki struck on either side of halftime for Japan, which was also boosted by a goal each from captain Ryota Oshima and Takuya Iwanami.
Japan’s next game is on Wednesday against Iraq. Japan beat the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in the final to snare gold four years ago in Guangzhou, China.
Nadeshiko Japan, who also won the title in 2010 alongside the men, play China on Monday in their first game of the competition.
Both teams came out cautiously for the opening half at Incheon Football Stadium, where the first shot on target by either side in the 43rd minute led to the first goal of the game.
Oshima, despite being surrounded by three defenders, found his way onto the end of a lob into the box before the Kawasaki Frontale midfielder hit the back of the net.
Kuwait came within a hair of equalizing through its captain in injury time, but Jubilo Iwata’s Ayumi Niekawa made a fine save from Alsanea Sami from point-blank range to keep Japan ahead going into the break.
Makoto Teguramori’s men got off to a fast start in the second half when from a 50th-minute corner, Suzuki pounced on a ball headed across the face of goal by Kashima Antlers’ Naomichi Ueda.
The Kuwaitis pulled within one 20 minutes later through Najaf Yousef to give themselves a chance of stealing a point off the holders, after Iwanami cleared off the line.
But Iwanami himself re-established Japan’s two-goal lead from close range in the 74th minute, and Suzuki put the game out of Kuwait’s reach eight minutes from time with his second of the evening thanks to the assistance of Shoya Nakajima.
“I’m glad I could score,” said Suzuki. “We didn’t start very well but gradually started to control the pace of the game. We attacked really well in the second half.”
“If we play like we did in the second half against Iraq I think we can do well. We need to get proper rest for the next two days and get prepared.”