Defending champion Japan, Iraq open with Asian Cup wins
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa helped engineer Japan’s 4-0 rout of tournament newcomer Palestine and Iraq edged Jordan 1-0 on Monday as the last two winners of the Asian Cup won their Group D openers.
There’ll be little time for celebration, though, with Japan and Iraq meeting Friday in a match that will likely determine which team tops the group.
Defending champion Japan took a 3-0 lead in the first half with goals from Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Okazaki and Honda’s penalty in wet and windy Newcastle. Maya Yoshida scored after the break from Kagawa’s cross.
“In modern football it’s not easy to win by four goals,” Japan coach Javier Aguirre said. “So as for tonight’s result I am happy by winning by four goals.”
Japan has won four of the last six Asian Cups, and is seeking an unprecedented fifth title. Iraq was a surprise champion in 2007, when the tournament was co-hosted in four Southeast Asian countries.
Younis Mahmoud, the star of that tournament, returned to lead Iraq in Brisbane, but lacked match fitness and was replaced just a few minutes before Swindon midfielder Yaser Kasim scored the winner with a deflected shot in the 77th.
“We treated this game like a final,” Kasim said. “It was very important to get the win. The boys are very happy, we just have to calm down and look forward to the second game.”
Iraq’s last group match is against Palestine, giving Iraq the seemingly easier run after the big match against Japan.
“Japan is one of the top teams of Asia (but) we go into it with a plan ... to win,” Kasim said. “We can’t think of the game after Japan. We can’t take anyone lightly, and we can’t respect anyone too much, even though we know how good Japan is. The most important thing is we play our game.”
The Palestinians, who qualified by winning the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives last year, got an early taste of competition in Asia’s top flight.
Japan needed only eight minutes to score its first goal as Endo’s long-range strike beat Palestine captain and goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh’s dive.
“Endo’s early goal was great,” said Okazaki, was voted player of the match. “It gave the team great momentum. We played well, however, we could have been better.
“We are not satisfied with four goals we should have scored more.”
The best chance for the Palestinians came in the 81st, when they were a man down, but Abdallatif Albahdari sent his header narrowly wide.
A small group of Palestinian fans in the crowd of 15,497 waved flags, beat drums and sang throughout the match.
“The feeling has touched our emotions,” Palestine coach Ahmad Alhasan said. “This is the only national team that plays in this tournament that is still under occupation.
“To see the Palestinian people everywhere in the world can be gathered to support Palestine.”
Palestine will next play Friday in Melbourne against Jordan, which also finished with 10 men after Anas Bani Yaseen’s rough challenge on Iraqi midfielder Saad Abdulameer in the 84th resulted in a second yellow card. Iraq had a chance to go further ahead two minutes later but Abdul Zahra’s powerful strike from Dhurgham Ismail’s cross was tipped away by Shafi.
Jordan had three shots on target, including two tame long-range strikes in the first half that were both easily handled by Jalal Hassan, but squandered a series of opportunities around the hour mark with a glut of possession in the attacking third.
Jordan coach Ray Wilkins said he was disappointed not to at least get a draw.
“I felt during the game we were more than equal, more than worthy of earning a point,” Wilkins said. “My team at the moment are very disappointed and down. It’s my job to pick them up and get started again.”
Wilkins knows he needs to work on the finishing.
“That’s the slight problem we’ve been having, is the last third of the pitch,” he said. “We’ve put teams under difficulty when we’ve attacked, but we need a little bit of luck to go our way. We need it to go off someone’s backside and fly in the net. That will kick-start I’m sure a good period for us.”
Group A is back in action on Tuesday, with 2011 finalist Australia against Oman and two-time champion South Korea playing Kuwait.