Wed, Mar 29, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Okazaki scores 50th goal as Japan, Australia win

AFP and Reuters, SAITAMA, Japan, and SYDNEY

Australia’s Jackson Irvine, second right, scores against the United Arab Emirates in their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Sydney yesterday.

Photo: AFP

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

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 in swashbuckling style.

Okazaki’s landmark strike, on his 108th Japan appearance, came on 19 minutes in Saitama, Japan, and effectively killed the contest.

Yuya Kubo and Maya Yoshida added further goals for the Blue Samurai after the break, while Eiji Kawashima saved a late penalty from Kraison Adisak to deny Thailand a consolation.

Japan provisionally took top spot with 16 points from seven games, but Saudi Arabia could go above them on goal-difference with sizeable victory over Iraq in Jeddah later yesterday.

Australia were three points behind with three matches left after a 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates (UAE), whose coach Mahdi Ali announced his resignation after the match.

Goals from Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie handed Australia the crucial victory.

“Everyone stressed the importance to us before the game, and it was just about keeping calm and composed, and taking our opportunities when they came,” Australia skipper Mile Jedinak said. “We squandered a few chances and might have got the second goal a little bit earlier, but in the end the boys delivered tonight and that’s all we can ask.”

While Australia lived to fight on, there were tears in the UAE camp with their qualification hopes now looking remote.

“I think after five years, I have done my best, we have many achievements,” Ali told reporters. “I thank the staff, the team, but I think it is time for me to leave.”

In Group A, Iran maintained their four-point lead at the top of the table by defeating China 1-0 in Tehran with a goals by Mehdi Taremi in the 46th minute.

In Seoul, Hong Jeong-ho struck in the fourth minute as second-placed South Korea edged Syria 1-0 to move to 13 points, four ahead of Uzbekistan, who were due to take on Qatar later yesterday.

Additional reporting by staff writer

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