Defending champions Japan thrashed Palestine 4-0 in their Asian Cup opener on Monday, giving them the perfect start in their quest for a fifth title.

The Blue Samurai, who won the tournament for a record fourth time in 2011, needed only eight minutes to take the lead against a Palestine team making their first appearance in Asia’s showcase competition. 

Yasuhito Endo, making his 149th appearance for Japan, rifled a shot into the bottom corner, goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh going down in installments to gift the J-League player of the year his 15th international goal.

Shinji Okazaki, who has been in a rich vein of form for German club Mainz, scored with a poacher’s strike in the 25th minute, reacting with razor-sharp reflexes to head in a volley from Shinji Kagawa which looked to be fizzing wide.

Keisuke Honda, Japan’s bleach-blond cult hero, then stroked home a penalty just before half-time before defender Maya Yoshida nodded in a fourth as the floodgates threatened to burst open.

But Japan coach Javier Aguirre, currently embroiled in a match-fixing scandal linked to his time as manager of Zaragoza in 2011, opted to save legs for his side’s next two Group D games against Iraq and Jordan as the holders eased off the gas in the latter stages.

Palestine, whose preparations for tournaments are invariably disrupted by political turmoil in their war-torn homeland, were barely given a sniff by a well-drilled Japan backline marshalled by Southampton centre-back Yoshida. 

Aguirre, however, bellowed at his players from the touchline as their concentration levels dropped off significantly towards the end of the game.

The Mexican, whose honeymoon period came to an abrupt end after a poor run of performances, is under intense pressure to lift the trophy following Japan’s World Cup flop last year under Alberto Zaccheroni. – Agence France-Presse

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