TEHRAN – Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Leicester City hitman Shinji Okazaki both scored twice as Japan destroyed Afghanistan 6-0 on Tuesday to pick up its second win in Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Masato Morishige and Keisuke Honda were also on target in the lopsided win in neutral Iran to help Vahid Halilhodzic’s men improve to seven points from three games in second-round Group E.
Syria remained in the top spot ahead of Japan after smashing Cambodia 6-0 for its third straight win in the other Group E game.
“It is fantastic that we won by a big margin and that is what I asked the players to do,” Halilhodzic said. “Our opponents dropped deep and made it difficult but we did really well.
“Now we need to get a good rest and prepare for our next game against Syria. I think they are the strongest team (we will face) in this group.”
Halilhodzic started Hertha Berlin forward Genki Haraguchi in place of Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto, the only change to the side that kicked off the 3-0 win over Cambodia in Saitama on Thursday, and Japan tore into the Afghans right from the kickoff at Azadi Stadium.
Morishige got on the end of Kagawa’s corner in the second minute but his header lacked enough purchase to beat goalkeeper Ovays Azizi.
Captain Makoto Hasebe then volleyed over from close range after Honda headed back a cross from Yuto Nagatomo. Kagawa, also on target against Cambodia, collected Haraguchi’s pass and opened the scoring on 10 minutes with a sweetly struck effort from just outside the area.
Halilhodzic’s men continued to pile on the pressure with Morishige just failing to connect before his long-range effort took a bounce and came back off the crossbar.
But the 28-year-old FC Tokyo defender was not to be denied.
After Morishige had his header saved by Azizi, Honda did brilliantly to keep the rebound from going out for a corner, sliding full stretch to turn the ball back from the byline for Morishige to bundle home at the near post and double the lead 10 minutes before halftime.
It was more of the same in the second half, and Kagawa made it 3-0 in the 50th minute when he took a pass from Haraguchi and drove into the bottom corner from the left side of the six-yard box.
“I just clobbered the ball as hard as I could (for the first goal) and managed to keep my head to put away the second. We were able to deal with this atmosphere and intense home support and get the job done,” Kagawa said.
He was also involved in the fourth goal, putting through Hotaru Yamaguchi to set up Okazaki, who rolled into an empty net in the 57th minute before stabbing in his second in the 60th after Honda’s shot had come back off a defender.
“We were able to break them down with our combination play and the final pass was good (for my first goal) so it was just a case of me putting the ball away,” Okazaki said.
“The qualifiers continue and hopefully we can keep on playing well and get a bit closer to making the World Cup.”
Honda got in on the act with his second goal in as many games, scrambling in a pass from substitute Takashi Usami to complete the demolition 17 minutes from time.
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