Japan all but secured their ticket for the third round of AFC World Cup qualifying with a comprehensive 5-0 win over Afghanistan in Saitama to ensure they remain top of Group E with one game to go.
Head coach Vahid Halilhodzic opted to rest Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda ahead of Tuesday’s crucial game against second-placed Syria, but the hosts were too strong for Afghanistan even without their star men.
Shinji Okazaki opened the scoring for Japan in the 43rd minute with a fine individual goal, before Hiroshi Kiyotake added a second shortly before the hour mark to effectively end the match as a contest.
An own goal from Sharif Muhammad then made it three, with Maya Yoshida and Mu Kanazaki piling even more misery on Afghanistan in the closing stages.
Rampant Japan have now won all seven of their group matches without conceding a goal and Syria must beat bottom-of-the-standings Cambodia later on Thursday to ensure the race for top spot goes to the final game.
Japan dominated proceedings from the start and had a number of chances to open the scoring early on. Kanazaki curled over from the edge of the box, before Genki Haraguchi saw his fine long-range strike hit the crossbar.
Kanazaki should have opened the scoring when he found himself one-on-one with Ovays Azizi midway through the first half, but the Kashima Antlers attacker failed to beat the Afghanistan goalkeeper from close range.
Okazaki eventually did give Japan the lead with two minutes left the first half. The Leicester City striker shrugged off his direct opponent with a sublime first touch after being played in on the edge of the area, nutmegged Modjieb Jamali and coolly placed his finish past Azizi.
The home side doubled their lead in the 58th minute after a quick attack through the middle. Kanazaki set up Kiyotake with a clever flick and the Hannover midfielder found the net with a casual finish.
Things got even worse for the visitors five minutes later when Muhammad deflected Hiroki Sakai’s cross from the right past his own shot stopper.
Yoshida added a fourth on 74 minutes when he headed home a corner from the left, with Kanazaki also adding his name to the score-sheet four minutes later after being set up by Mike Havenaar.
Japan did not convert a number of chances to net a sixth goal that would have equalled their result from the away game against Afghanistan in September as they smoothly negotiated another step on the road to Russia.
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