NEWCASTLE, Australia (Reuters) – Holders Japan enjoyed a Monday stroll in the Newcastle breeze as they swatted aside the meagre challenge of outsiders Palestine to kick off their Asian Cup title defence with a 4-0 victory.
Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda notched first half goals with Maya Yoshida adding another after the break in a contest that was predictably one-sided for the record four-time champions.
Palestine, who qualified to play in the Asian Cup for the first time despite the restrictions placed on them, received a harsh lesson about the standards needed to trouble the very elite in the continent.
Midfielder Endo set the Blue Samurai on their way with an eighth-minute fizzing long-range drive after being allowed far too much room to stroll towards the Palestinian area.
The 34-year-old, winning his 149th cap, shrewdly kept his 30 metre shot low under the stiff breeze that Japan were playing into at the Newcastle Stadium but goalkeeper and skipper Ramzi Saleh seemed to dive too early and should have kept it out.
The chances continued to come for Japan as Javier Aguirre’s side predictably dominated the West Asians, ranked 115th in the world by FIFA, who manfully tried to restrict their more illustrious opponents despite the gulf in class.
They added a second in the 25th minute when striker Okazaki used his head smartly to stoop low and redirect a wayward volley from Shinji Kagawa past Saleh from close range.
The Palestinians then gifted their opponents the chance to add a third four minutes before the break when defender Musab Battat clumsily bundled over Kagawa in the penalty area.
Honda, player of the tournament four years ago, stepped up to send Saleh the wrong way with the spot kick just before the break.
The Blue Samurai continued to dominate in the second period and, aided by the breeze, added a fourth in the 49th minute when Yoshida rose unchallenged to meet Kagawa’s left-wing cross.
Palestine defender Ahmed Mahajnabut made it a tough final 20 minutes for his team mates after being sent off following a second yellow card for scything down Kagawa, but the Japanese were unable to add to their tally as complacency set in.
Defender Abdallatif Al-Bahdari almost snatched a consolation for Palestine and their noisy fans in the 82nd minute but his header flashed wide.