KOBE: Stuttgart striker Shinji Okazaki scored two goals to lead Asian champions Japan to a 3-0 win over Latvia in their season opener on Wednesday in a warm-up game ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
The 26-year-old forward, who missed a header in the 31st minute, slid down for a right-footer on a cross by Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida, which hit the left post and landed in the net in the 41st minute.
In the 60th minute, CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda struck home from the edge of the area on a perfect cross by Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa to make it two up.
Less than two minutes later, Okazaki added another goal on a straight pass from behind.
“I was able to move back and forward very well. I think I did 60 percent of what I wanted to do. The remaining 40 percent is ... I couldn’t keep the ball when it was tough,” said Okazaki.
“It was a start for the team this year, so it is good to start with this win. For me, it was good to score goals, but I still have a lot to improve,” added Okazaki.
Japan kept the initiative after the break with substitute forward Ryoichi Maeda hitting the left post and Honda missing a goal saved by keeper Andris Vanins in the beginning of the second half.
Latvians Edgars Gauracs and midfielder Olegs Laizans hit a couple of shots in the second half, shortly before the home side pressed home its advantage with two more goals.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said: “We didn’t get off to a good start, because we hadn’t played a game for a couple of months, but we started to play better from 15 minutes before the end of the first half.”
“I expect to have another warm-up game before the World Cup qualifier in March and I’m going to test more plans. I want the team to make good preparation for a game against Jordan in March,” added the Italian.
Japan, one win away from reaching the finals in Brazil, will play an away game against Jordan on March 26 in their next World Cup qualifier. Latvia, meanwhile, are lying in fifth place in the European group G.