Friday 08 June 2012

Honda hits hat-trick as Japan trounce Jordan in World Cup qualifiers

Japan have got off to the perfect start to the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, following up Sunday’s easy 3-0 win over Oman in Saitama by thrashing Jordan 6-0 at the same venue on Friday evening.

Notorious in the past for struggling to break down defensive, supposedly weaker opposition, Alberto Zaccheroni’s ever-improving side were immediately onto the front foot against Oman, taking the lead through Keisuke Honda’s volley on ten minutes before quick-fire strikes early in the second half from Ryoichi Maeda and Shinji Okazaki.

It was a similar story against an initially more threatening-looking Jordan, as Maeda and Honda put the home side two up inside 21 minutes before Abdallah Deeb was sent off for two moments of overzealous aggression in quick succession. Honda struck again on the half-hour mark before Shinji Kagawa added a fourth to make the result an absolute formality before half time.

Honda completed a well-deserved hat-trick from the spot shortly after the restart, and Yuzo Kurihara completed the scoring late on.

After the confident opening performance five days previously, Zaccheroni opted to stick with his first-choice line-up for the second of this month’s three back-to-back qualifiers, meaning that new Manchester United signing Kagawa began on the left with Honda behind Maeda in the centre.

Japan began the game at a high tempo, but were immediately shown a harder time in developing their passing moves into the final third by the determined physical play of the Jordan defence. Okazaki had a speculative overhead kick saved easily by Amer Sabbah, who then did well to get down to a low, first-time effort from Honda.

But the Samurai Blue did earn a succession of corners for their efforts, and this bore fruit on 18 minutes when Honda’s high cross found Maeda, who rose above Saeed Morjan to force the ball home off his shoulder with Sabbah in no-man’s land.

Almost immediately afterwards, another Japan corner was half-cleared to Yasuhito Endo, who sent an absolutely glorious side-footed pass back through the visitors’ defence and perfectly into the path of Honda to finish confidently.

Jordan’s plan to frustrate their more illustrious opponents as they had at last year’s Asian Cup in Qatar had been quickly voided, and their own frustrations were apparent when Deeb was dismissed with more than an hour remaining. The forward unnecessarily tripped Maeda to earn a booking, before seeing red for catching Makoto Hasebe with his arm moments later.

Smelling blood, Japan quickly made it three. On the occasion of his 117th cap, second only to Masami Ihara on 122, Endo played another fantastic ‘quarterback’ pass to Okazaki, whose shot from the right was blocked by Basem Fat'hi only to roll across goal for Honda to net at the far post.

Kagawa completed the first half scoring as Japan continued to overwhelm their opponents in attack, curling the ball home between the post and the scrambling Khalil Bani Attiah from the edge of the penalty area.

Jordan looked to hit back at the start of the second period, going close to scoring when Odai Al-Saify’s attempt flew narrowly over. However, their momentum was quickly quelled when Japan broke down the other end and Maeda’s tricky footwork drew a foul and spot kick from Attiah. Honda converted with typical composure to complete his hat-trick.

With the most difficult fixture of the group, away to Australia in Brisbane, coming up on Tuesday, Japan could afford to drop the pace a little thereafter. Honda was withdrawn for Kengo Nakamura to a rapturous ovation, and the Kawasaki Frontale man was involved in the sixth and final strike at a short corner routine with Yuto Nagatomo, who crossed for Kurihara to head his first ever international goal.

The only black note on a most comfortable evening was an injury to defender Maya Yoshida, who had to be replaced by Kurihara shortly before the interval.


Captain Hasebe was unsurprisingly satisfied with the result, commenting to Japanese television at full time:

“Like the previous game, we managed to take the lead at a good time and from then on we could control the proceedings... we have scored a lot of goals over these past two games, but while it may not stand out quite so much the defence has performed very well too. We are in very good condition throughout the side at the moment.”

Hat-trick hero Honda added:

“My three goals came thanks to the good work of my teammates, including for the penalty, so I cannot take too much credit. I’m playing well at the moment, but the most important thing is that the team is playing well too... these two games have gone exactly as we had planned, and we now have to continue to meet everyone’s expectations when we head to Australia.”

World Cup qualifying results
Japan 3
-0 Oman
Japan 5-0 Jordan

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