Japan took a huge step in their campaign to qualify for a fifth straight World Cup with a thundering 3-0 victory over Oman on Sunday at Saitama Stadium.
The hosts wasted little time, attacking frequently in the first ten minutes and putting Oman under constant pressure. With shots raining from all points the first goal was a matter of time, finally coming in the 12th minute when Yuto Nagatomo’s cross was volleyed in by Keisuke Honda with his left foot.
With most of the first half’s play taking place in the visitor’s half, most of the pressure fell onto Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, who saved several great chances but was himself saved by the official’s flag more than once before the half ended at 1-0.
Japan picked up where they left off after the half ended, pressing Oman hard before doubling their lead in the 51st minute after Kagawa skillfully faked a shot before passing to Ryoichi Maeda, who converted from close range. The Jubilo Iwata veteran continued to demonstrate his mastery against Asian clubs, yet lagged in pace behind his Europe-based teammates.
Just three minutes later, Shinji Okazaki capitalised on a defensive error to give Japan a 3-0 lead on a blistering shot. The goal came as a relief to the Stuttgart man after he failed to capitalise on multiple first-half opportunities.
It was only thanks to two last-minute saves by Al-Habsi against Honda and substitute Hiroshi Kiyotake that the Samurai Blue failed to expand their lead even further as they closed the match with a flurry of chances.
The victory in front of over 63,000 fans extended Japan’s record under Alberto Zaccheroni to 13-6-2. The 2011 Asian Cup champions will host Jordan on Friday night, while Oman travel to Australia.