• Kyodo


Mu Kanazaki marked his return from the international wilderness with his first national team goal as Japan whipped Singapore 3-0 on Thursday in a second-round Asian qualifier for the 2018 World Cup.

Kanazaki opened the scoring after 20 minutes with a fine effort and Keisuke Honda and Maya Yoshida also put their names on the scoresheet in a comfortable win that helped Japan erase the disappointment of being held to an embarrassing 0-0 draw in its opening qualifier at home to the Singaporeans in June.

The win puts Japan back in control of Group E with 13 points from five games, one ahead of idle Syria. Japan plays Cambodia in its last qualifier of the year in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

“I want to congratulate the players but I think we could have scored more goals,” said Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

“We didn’t play badly in the first half and we defended well. We created some beautiful play in attack and maybe we were a bit hasty and had a bit of bad luck. That said, I still think we could have scored more goals,” said the Franco-Bosnian coach.

Back in the national team after a five-year absence Kashima Antlers’ star Kanazaki started in a three-prong attack alongside AC Milan’s Honda and in-form Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto.

Urawa Reds’ Yosuke Kashiwagi and Hannover’s Hiroshi Kiyotake were also given the nod, with Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa starting on the bench.

Despite peppering the visitors’ goal with 23 shots, the Blue Samurai in June were unable to find a way past goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who had the game of his life for Singapore in the home game in Saitama.

And Mahbud got an early taste of the action when he produced a one-handed save to keep out Honda’s first-time effort following a cross from Muto on seven minutes.

Mahbud then held onto a shot from Yoshida, but could do nothing to prevent Kanazaki from lashing home the opening goal.

Muto headed back Honda’s right-wing cross and Kanazaki controlled the ball with his chest before turning to beat Mahbud with an unstoppable shot.

Mahbud managed to keep out a Honda free kick on 24 minutes before Japan doubled its lead. Kanazaki was also involved in the second, feeding Kiyotake, whose pass was laid off by Muto for Honda to drill home a shot that took a deflection off Nazrul Nazari.

Japan continued to dominate after the break and Honda went close to making it 3-0 when he headed a great cross from Muto over the bar and Kanazaki had a shot charged down by Mahbud in the 59th minute.

Safuwan Baharudin had Singapore’s only real chance when he headed narrowly off target in the 65th minute but the home side never really looked like finding a way back.

Substitute Takashi Usami brought another save out of Mahbud and Kanazaki had the ball in the net again 10 minutes from time, but the goal was disallowed for offside.

But Yoshida wrapped up the scoring when he redirected Usami’s shot past Mahbud in the 87th minute.

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