Defending Asian Cup champions Japan on Tuesday booked their ticket to the quarter finals with a convincing 2-0 win over Jordan.
The sold-out Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, with a large portion of the 25,016 crowd wearing Samurai Blue colours, witnessed a rough game in which the Jordanians were willing to do anything it took to get the three points they needed to qualify for the knockout stages.
Keisuke Honda fired the first warning shot, but Tareq Khattab’s deflection allowed Amer Shafi to collect an easy ball.
The AC Milan star again threatened to attack in the tenth minute, passing the ball over the defence to Shinji Kagawa before receiving the pass back. His goal was disallowed after the ball was deemed to have already crossed the line before Kagawa’s pass.
Mohammad Mustafa received the first yellow card of the game when his studs met the leg of Japan captain Makoto Hasebe in the 12th minute.
Jordan failed to test Eiji Kawashima during the first 20 minutes of the game, receiving only passes from his teammates to keep the Standard Liege goalkeeper interested in the match.
Tareq and Mustafa fouled Shinji Okazaki in the 23rd minute, sandwiching the national team star striker, with Tareq then involving himself in some childish play by falling over the downed Okazaki.
The resulting free kick found its way into the back of the net via some neat passing, with Hasebe playing the ball to Takashi Inui, who played a through ball behind the defence to Okazaki. The FSV Mainz striker’s shot was parried by Shafi into the path of Honda, who made no mistake in converting from a slight angle.
Japan were momentarily down to ten men moments later when Abdallah Deeb’s late challenge knocked the underside of Hasebe’s foot, forcing the captain off the pitch for treatment. The Samurai Blue attempted to remain patient and pass the ball around their defensive line, but a moment of poor concentration allowed Hamza Aldaradreh to break forward with the ball. Hamza’s run into the penalty area allowed him a chance to shoot, but his attempt was deflected towards Gotoku Sakai to return possession back to the controlling side that had 74.4 percent possession in the first half.
FC Tokyo defender Masato Morishige found himself with a rare chance to head the ball into the net from a corner set piece minutes later, but Shafi’s reflexes sent the ball over the crossbar with a fingertip save and Japan went into the halftime locker room with a 1-0 lead.
Substitute midfielder Monther Abu Amara gave Jordan their first chance of the second half, finding space inside the area to adjust before shooting to the near post, but scuffed his shot and Kawashima had it easily covered as he dropped to his left.
Southampton defender Maya Yoshida came close with a chance from veteran Yasuhito Endo’s free kick, heading the ball across the goal face and just wide of the target.
Honda continued imposing his attacking ability on the Jordanian defence and forced a fine diving save out of Shafi in the 70th minute with a shot from just outside the box.
Despite a few rare moments for the Jordanians, Ray Wilkins’ team never really threatened to break down the Japanese defence that has become much more controlled under Javier Aguirre, who has become at risk of losing his post should the team slip up at any point during the tournament.
Japan rounded the game off with a second goal in the 82nd minute, with substitute Hiroshi Kiyotake launching fellow substitute Yoshinori Muto on a run down the wing. Muto then centred the ball to the on-charging Kagawa, whose shot was too strong for Shafi to keep out of the net.
To the disappointment of the strongly pro-Japan crowd, a potential third goal went wasted late in the game as Honda struck the woodwork.
The result sees Japan top Group D with nine points from three games, followed by Iraq who beat Palestine in a game played simultaneously in Canberra. The defending champions will travel to Sydney, their fourth location in four games, to play a quarter final against Group C runners-up UAE on Friday, January 23.