The visitors got off to a much slower start than they did a month ago but eventually had no great trouble dispatching their underpowered opponents in the World Cup qualifierJapan overcame a bare pitch and stiff defending by hosts Tajikistan to win 4-0 and virtually seal advancement to the final round of World Cup qualifying.
With wide patches of Dushanbe Central Stadium nearly devoid of grass, the Samurai Blue struggled to move the ball with their usual efficiency as coach Alberto Zaccheroni fielded his usual 4-2-3-1 lineup. Tajikistan coach Pulod Khodirov made three changes to his lineup from last month’s defeat.
The match remained scoreless for the first half-hour, with Tajikistan attacking far more than they did in last month’s one-sided affair but failing to convert, their highlight being a 25-metre screamer from Dilshod Vasiev that rebounded off the far post.
Japan finally broke the deadlock in the 36th minute when captain Makoto Hasebe’s inbound pass found Kengo Nakamura, whose shot was blocked by the goalkeeper. Defender Yasuyuki Konno was just a few steps behind and slammed in the rebound for his first international goal. The first half ended with the visitors leading 1-0.
The away side continued to control the run of play in the second half, doubling their lead in the 61st minute when an unmarked Shinji Okazaki headed in fellow Bundesliga star Shinji Kagawa’s cross from the far side.
Despite their opponents' seemingly unassailable lead, Tajikistan continued to attack vigorously and a couple miscues by Japanese defenders nearly made it possible for the hosts, winless so far this qualifying round, to take back a goal of their own, but they found no joy.
Ryoichi Maeda made it 3-0 in the 82nd minute after unleashing his right foot from just outside the penalty area while swarmed by three Tajikistan defenders.
Okazaki notched his second of the game in additional time with his right foot to complete the rout.
Tajikistan now visit Uzbekistan on Tuesday, while Japan travel to Pyongyang to face North Korea.