Japan cruises past Palestine in opener



Four-time champion Japan made the perfect start to its Asian Cup defense with a 4-0 whipping of tournament debutant Palestine on Monday.

Yasuhito Endo marked his fourth Asian Cup with the opener after eight minutes, and further goals from Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda put Japan out of sight at the break.

Maya Yoshida headed the fourth early in the second half and Palestine’s misery was compounded when it had defender Ahmed Mahajna sent off 17 minutes from time.

In the day’s other Group D match in Brisbane, 2007 champion Iraq edged Jordan 1-0 thanks to Yaser Kasim’s 77th-minute strike.

“The best thing about this game was getting the three points but it was not an easy game. The wind made it hard for both teams,” said Japan coach Javier Aguirre.

“There are adjustments that we need to make and I will tell the players about them at practice tomorrow.”

Japan started with purpose and Endo, playing in a national team-record 18th Asian Cup match, broke the deadlock when he took a pass from Takashi Inui and steered a low shot from 25 meters into the bottom left-hand corner.

“I was free and just wanted to get it on target,” said Endo, after winning his 149th cap. “The surface was a bit slippery so I knew the moment I hit the ball it was going in.”

“Everyone was fired up today and it is nice to start off with a 4-0 win and obviously nice for me to score our first goal of the tournament,” added the 2014 J. League Player of the Year.

Palestine, making its Asian Cup debut after winning the AFC Challenge Cup in May, struggled to make any headway and Okazaki doubled Japan’s advantage in the 25th minute.

Inui got a touch on Yuto Nagatomo’s cut-back and the loose ball fell to Shinji Kagawa. The Dortmund midfielder let fly but Okazaki claimed the kudos when he turned the shot in with his head from the edge of the 6-yard box.

“We had the right intensity at the start and Yatto (Endo) scoring (early) made a big difference,” said Okazaki. “I am glad I scored but I didn’t create that many chances to shoot and I am not happy about that. It’s my job to score so I have to get involved more in goalscoring chances.”

Honda had earlier sent a free kick sailing harmlessly over the bar in blustery conditions at Newcastle Stadium, but the AC Milan attacker made no mistake from the spot to effectively end the game as a contest.

Qatari referee Abdulrahman Hussain had no hesitation in awarding a penalty after Kagawa was fouled by Musab Battat and Honda stepped up to send goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh the wrong way.

Saleh did well to turn an Endo shot away just after the break but Yoshida, on target in Japan’s opening 1-1 draw with Jordan at the 2011 Asian Cup, made it 4-0 in the 49th minute when he powered in Kagawa’s cross from the left.

“Always the first game in the tournament is hard and especially today as we didn’t have much information about Palestine,” said Yoshida.

“The biggest challenge for us today was for us to get a clean sheet and three points and I am glad we did that.”

Palestine was reduced to 10 men when Mahajna was given a second yellow card and dismissed in the 73rd minute for a foul on Kagawa, but Abdallatif Al Bahdari nearly grabbed a consolation with a header that flashed wide eight minutes from time.

Japan faces Iraq next in Brisbane on Friday before wrapping up the group phase against Jordan in Melbourne on Jan. 20.