Soccer

Japan’s Osako delivers two-goal performance in rout of Oman

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Yuya Osako scored a double on his return to the national team as Japan warmed up for next week’s World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia with a 4-0 friendly win over Oman on Friday.

Osako had not appeared for Japan since a 0-0 home draw with Singapore in June 2015, but the Cologne striker wasted no time in making his mark with goals in the 32nd and 42nd minutes at Kashima Stadium.

Hiroshi Kiyotake added another from the penalty spot in the 64th minute and substitute Yuki Kobayashi notched a fourth in injury time, to ensure that Japan heads into Tuesday’s crunch game against the Saudis at Saitama Stadium with the wind in its sails.

“This is a special stadium for me so I was happy to score,” said Osako, who notched his first international goals in three years at the home of his former club, Kashima Antlers.

“The next game is the important one and I want to prepare well to win it. That’s a game that we need to take three points from and we will be giving our all to do that.”

Japan is currently in third place in World Cup qualifying Group B after four games, three points behind leader Saudi Arabia and one behind second-place Australia.

“It was a good test for my team,” said Japan manager Vahid Halilhodzic. “I saw a lot of good things and some things that were not so good. Some players didn’t give their best performance, but it gives me a lot to think about with regards to who will start against Saudi Arabia.

“Osako scored two goals and he was playing a different role to the one he usually does with his club. He is a good candidate to play against the Saudis.”

Hiroki Sakai headed over the bar in the 16th minute before connecting with a Keisuke Honda cross to beat Oman goalkeeper Faiyz Al Rusheidi two minutes later, but a linesman’s flag deprived the Marseille defender of his first international goal.

Manabu Saito almost blasted the ball past his own goalkeeper as he attempted to deal with a rare Oman attack, but Osako settled Japan’s nerves with the opening goal, diving to meet Kiyotake’s deep cross with an angled header.

Osako then grabbed his second three minutes before halftime, controlling a pass from Kiyotake and taking out Oman defender Abdul Sallam Al Mukhaini with a deft turn before firing the ball past Al Rusheidi.

A double substitution in the 61st minute saw Osako and Honda depart and Shinji Okazaki and Takuma Asano come on, and Asano made an immediate impact by winning a penalty that the increasingly influential Kiyotake converted with supreme confidence.

Japan pushed hard for another but had to wait until injury time when Kobayashi, making only his second national team appearance, burst into the box and lashed a right-foot shot into the top corner.

“I came off the bench and I was looking to get forward,” said Heerenveen midfielder Kobayashi, who scored his first international goal. “I was playing in defensive midfield which is something different for me, but I’m glad I could get a goal.”