It is hard to read too much into Japan’s first game at this year’s Asian Cup, with Palestine offering very little, if any, resistance in Newcastle on Monday.
A comfortable three points, no injuries – although Yoshinori Muto took a nasty kick in a particularly delicate area shortly after coming on – and goals for two of the three forwards were all positives to take from the Samurai Blue’s curtain-raiser, but the level of opposition will become a lot tougher from here-on-in.
Palestine had secured their berth at this year’s competition – the first time they have appeared at the Asian Cup – by virtue of winning the Challenge Cup in 2014, a triumph they achieved without conceding a goal in five matches. Had they been able to hold out for longer against Japan things may have become a little tricky for Javier Aguirre’s men, but as it was Yasuhito Endo’s 8th minute strike settled the holders’ nerves and knocked the confidence of their opponents.
“There was a slight feeling of tension at the start but we were able to play football and the biggest thing was scoring the first goal from the middle,” Shinji Okazaki said post-match.
“It finished 4-0 but we have some things to think about, the quality of our attacks and crosses and so on. In the first half we made a lot of good chances but in the second there weren’t as many.
“I didn’t have many chances to shoot, compared to the opportunities I have had before, and I have to make them myself as well. My work down the sides was ok but when it comes to the final product I have to be putting the ball in the net. With that in mind I need to involve myself in more action in front of the goal.”
Endo was pleased he had been able to settle any early nerves, and said he hadn’t had any doubt in his mind when he rifled in the opener.
“It always feels good to score goals, but I’m happy to have scored our first goal at this year’s Asian Cup,” he told me after the game. “I’d decided I was going to shoot when I trapped the ball, 100% I was going to shoot. I didn’t think about passing.”
Even so, he was also ruing the lack of finesse shown by he and his colleagues when chances arose In the second half. “I kind of mis-kicked it,” he conceded of the carbon-copy attempt of his goal that Ramzi Saleh tipped past the post in the 49th minute. “I think that was a chance I should have scored. I should have struck it a little straighter.”
The Gamba Osaka veteran isn’t too preoccupied with goal difference in Group D, though, and insisted that Japan need only focus on making sure they emerge victorious from each of their next two games as well.
“If we win all three games then it has no importance. Of course, though, if we can score lots of goals and not concede many it will be advantageous, so we have to make sure that we get goals when the chances present themselves and not concede any goals in the three matches.”
Muto’s painful-looking clash didn’t concern the 2014 J.League player of the year either: “He’s still young so he’s ok,” the 34-year-old rather unsympathetically chuckled.