DOHA – Japan swept aside Thailand 4-0 on Saturday to secure a spot in the quarterfinals of the Asian Under-23 Championship, the continent’s final qualifying competition for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Albirex Niigata forward Musashi Suzuki fired Japan in front midway through the first half and further goals from Shinya Yajima and substitute Yuya Kubo (twice) ensured Makoto Teguramori’s side made it two wins out of two and booked a place in the last eight ahead of its final Group B match against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
“We made some changes to the team and it was great that we were able to show the overall strength we have,” said Teguramori, who made six changes to the team that started Wednesday’s 1-0 win over North Korea.
“The attackers got the goals and hopefully we can maintain the momentum.”
Thailand, which drew 1-1 with Saudi Arabia in its opening game, got off to a lively start, with Adison Promrak heading a corner just wide on four minutes.
Yajima forced a good save out of Somporn Yos at the other end and Takuma Asano and Yuta Toyokawa also went close to breaking the deadlock with efforts that came back off the woodwork.
Japan finally went in front in the 27th minute as Suzuki nudged on a pass from Wataru Endo with his head and smashed an unstoppable shot past Somporn and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Yajima then put Japan in control four minutes into the second half, heading in a cross after good work on the left flank from Riki Harakawa.
Thailand was presented with a great chance to level from the penalty spot moments later when Masashi Kamekawa was adjudged to have brought down Thitiphan Puangjan, but Puangjan drilled his spot kick against the crossbar.
Any hopes of a comeback ended 15 minutes from time when Young Boys striker Kubo raced onto a through ball and beat Somporn with a shot that the Thai keeper got a hand to but could not prevent from crossing the line.
Kubo completed his brace and sealed victory when he sent Somporn the wrong way from the penalty spot in the 84th minute after he had been fouled by Tanaboon Kesarat.
“I was trying to get behind their (Thailand’s) defense and there was space there for me,” said Kubo. “I could not score in the first game so I wanted to score today.
“If things go well in the team then the attackers are going to score goals. We made a great start and Musashi’s goal put us on the right foot.”
The top two in each of the four groups advance to the quarterfinals. The two finalists and the winners of the third-place match qualify for Rio.
Japan, which reached the semifinals of the 2012 London Games, is aiming to qualify for its sixth consecutive Olympics.