YOKOHAMA – Japan warmed up for the start of its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a ruthless 4-0 win over Iraq in a friendly on Thursday night.
Keisuke Honda and Tomoaki Makino put Japan two goals ahead within the opening 10 minutes at Nissan Stadium, before Shinji Okazaki added another midway through the first half.
Substitute Genki Haraguchi then gave the 63,877 crowd one more goal to cheer as he made it four late in the second half, leaving manager Vahid Halilhodzic satisfied as he turned his thoughts toward Tuesday’s opening World Cup qualifier at home to Singapore.
“My team played a superb match,” said Halilhodzic, who has now won all three of his games in charge. “We were very effective and the defense’s positioning was very good. The players performed at a high level, although we should maybe have scored more goals.
“It was a good win and I want to thank the players.”
Honda was denied by Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hassan Hachim as early as the second minute, but Japan’s talisman would not have to wait much longer to give his side the lead. Gaku Shibasaki split the Iraq defense to put Honda through on goal, and the AC Milan forward stayed cool to shrug off a defender and dispatch his shot into the corner of the net.
Four minutes later, Makino made it two. Shinji Kagawa swung in a corner that deflected off a crowd of bodies, and Makino was on hand to sweep the ball home at the back post.
Hassan somehow prevented a third shortly afterward when he diverted a Shinji Okazaki shot onto the crossbar, but the ‘keeper was powerless to prevent the Mainz striker from hitting the target in the 32nd minute after Takashi Usami had teed him up with a run at the heart of the Iraq defense.
“We made a great start and gave a good performance,” said Usami, who was making his first international start. “I was able to play the way I am capable of and it’s good to be involved in the goals. I just dribbled and Okazaki was in a good position to pass to for his goal.”
Justin Hikmat Azeez came close to pulling one back for Iraq with a free kick on the stroke of halftime, but Japan quickly set about turning the screw again after the break and Shibasaki almost scored from a free kick of his own soon after the restart.
Honda hit the post before Halilhodzic made his first substitutions of the evening, bringing off Honda, Usami and Kagawa and introducing Haraguchi, Yoshinori Muto and Kensuke Nagai in the 67th minute.
And Haraguchi made an impact with his first international goal in the 84th minute, ripping through the Iraq defense before lashing home a shot past Hassan.
Japan is bidding for a place in its sixth straight World Cup, but must first negotiate an opening group that also contains Afghanistan, Cambodia and Syria.
“It’s great preparation for the next match,” said Halilhodzic. “I want to see us repeat what we did tonight.”