Okazaki brings up 50 goals for Japan
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.