Japan, Iraq open with Asian Cup wins
BRISBANE, Australia (AP):
Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa helped engineer Japan's 4-0 rout of tournament newcomers Palestine, and Iraq edged Jordan 1-0 yesterday as the last two winners of the Asian Cup won their Group D openers.
There will be little time for celebration, though, with Japan and Iraq meeting Friday in a match that is likely to determine which team tops the group.
Defending champions Japan took a 3-0 lead in the first half with goals from Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Okazaki, and Honda's penalty in wet and windy Newcastle. Maya Yoshida scored after the break from Kagawa's cross.
"In modern football, it's not easy to win by four goals," Japan coach Javier Aguirre said. "So as for tonight's result, I am happy by winning by four goals."
Japan have won four of the last six Asian Cups and they are seeking an unprecedented fifth title. Iraq were surprise champions in 2007 when the tournament was co-hosted in four Southeast Asian countries.
Younis Mahmoud, the star of that tournament, returned to lead Iraq in Brisbane but lacked match fitness and was replaced just a few minutes before Swindon midfielder Yaser Kasim scored the winner with a deflected shot in the 77th.
"We treated this game like a final," Kasim said. "It was very important to get the win. The boys are very happy. We just have to calm down and look forward to the second game."
Iraq's last group match is against Palestine, giving Iraq the seemingly easier run after the big match against Japan.
"Japan is one of the top teams of Asia, (but) we go into it with a plan ... to win," Kasim said. "We can't think of the game after Japan. We can't take anyone lightly, and we can't respect anyone too much, even though we know how good Japan is. The most important thing is we play our game."