Okazaki brings up 50 goals for Ja­pan

The National - News - Sport - - FOOTBALL -

Le­ices­ter City striker Shinji Okazaki cel­e­brated his 50th in­ter­na­tional goal yes­ter­day as Ja­pan brushed aside Thai­land 4-0 to edge closer to a sixth suc­ces­sive World Cup fi­nals ap­pear­ance.

Shinji Ka­gawa gave the hosts the lead in their Asian Group B qual­i­fier with a sharp fin­ish af­ter eight min­utes, be­fore Okazaki thun­dered home a div­ing header to bring up his half-cen­tury.

Okazaki’s landmark goal, on his 108th Ja­pan ap­pear­ance, came on 19 min­utes in Saitama and ef­fec­tively killed the con­test. Yuya Kubo and Maya Yoshida added fur­ther goals af­ter the break and Eiji Kawashima saved a late penalty from Adisak Kraisorn to deny Thai­land a con­so­la­tion goal. Ja­pan, who won 2-0 in the UAE last Thurs­day, re­main three points clear of third­placed Aus­tralia in the ta­ble, with the top two sides guar­an­teed a spot in Rus­sia next sum­mer.

“I’m in­cred­i­bly happy to get that goal,” Okazaki said. “I hadn’t scored for a while so it was a re­lief. Hope­fully I can keep on scor­ing goals for Ja­pan.

“We’re not at the World Cup yet. We have to make sure we keep tak­ing our chances and win our re­main­ing games.”

Ja­pan man­ager Vahid Halil­hodzic re­fused to get car­ried away de­spite pick­ing up six points from two games in six days.

“I have to con­grat­u­late the play­ers on two su­per vic­to­ries,” he said.

“It wasn’t an easy game to­day, and they gave us a few prob­lems, but we pro­duced an ef­fec­tive per­for­mance.

“We scored four lovely goals, which helps our cause as goal dif­fer­ence could prove to be cru­cial. But we have put our­selves in a good po­si­tion to qual­ify for the World Cup with three big games left.”

Thai­land man­ager Ki­atisuk Se­na­muang, who signed a oneyear con­tract ex­ten­sion be­fore the game, paid trib­ute to Ja­pan af­ter­wards.

“Ja­pan pass and fin­ish so well so we have no com­plaints,” he said af­ter his team were math­e­mat­i­cally elim­i­nated from qual­i­fy­ing for Rus­sia.

“They’re very clin­i­cal in tak­ing their chances. It was a les­son for us and a good ex­pe­ri­ence. One day the path to the World Cup will open up to us.” Saudi Ara­bia main­tained their grip on the sec­ond au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing place with a 1-0 vic­tory over Iraq in Jed­dah thanks to a su­perb 25-yard strike from Yahya Al Shehri on 53 min­utes.

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