Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Okazaki were amongst the scorers on Monday night as Japan easily beat Palestine 4-0 in their Asian Cup opener.
Large contingents of both Japanese and Palestinian supporters packed the Hunter Valley’s Newcastle Stadium for the Group D fixture.
Samurai Blue coach Javier Aguirre used a familiar starting lineup against the contentious nation, which fielded a team of mixed-heritage players still relatively unknown to many on the international field.
Over 15,000 spectators were treated to a 4-0 win by the defending champions against the Palestinians, who brought a large and passionate number of fans to the game, waving large flags, beating drums and often out-singing the Japanese support.
With Japan controlling most of the early proceedings, Yasuhito Endo gave Japan the lead after eight minutes of play, finding an angle from outside the box to launch a low drive into the far corner while Palestine could only watch the ball roll into the net.
Germany-based striker Shinji Okazaki reacted quickly to head in an attempt from Shinji Kagawa, resulting in their teammates congratulating both players for scoring half a goal each.
The attacking threat continued towards the end of the half, but Japan were largely unable to find a final pass or strike a clean shot as half-time inched into its final moments.
Japan weren’t quite done for the first 45 minutes, however, and Kagawa earned a penalty for an off-the-ball incident for Keisuke Honda to convert in the 44th minute. Aside from contributing towards the first half scoreline from a dead ball, Honda had found it hard to provide anything notable from his control or passing, with Abdallah Jaber’s brave defending making it a difficult first half for the AC Milan star.
Japan scored a fourth shortly after the break through Maya Yoshida, when Kagawa scrambled to cross the ball into the crowd for the Southampton FC defender rising above to send the ball beyond the reach of Ramzi Saleh.
Palestine managed to create a few attacking moments and put Japan on the back foot a couple of times, but a second caution to Ahhmed Mahajna in the 73rd minute left Palestine wishing they had the experience of Haytham Theed in the team, a full-time teacher who failed to get clearance to travel to Australia.
Abdallatif Al-Bahdari had a great chance to pull one back for the Palestinians in the 82nd minute despite the one man disadvantage, but his header from a corner kick was misdirected.
Brave defending prevented a fifth goal within the added four minutes of time, despite an onslaught of attempts by the Japanese, perfectly summarising the play of the Palestinians throughout regulation time.
Japan next travel to Brisbane for a game against Iraq, who play later tonight in the final game of the first round, before closing the group stage on January 20 against Jordan in Melbourne.