Shinji Kagawa’s double helped Japan top Group E in the second round of AFC World Cup qualifying with a 5-0 win over Syria as both teams progressed to the third stage.
Japan dominated matters for the majority of Tuesday’s game in Saitama and opened the scoring through an own goal from Syria’s Hamdi Al Masri in the 17th minute, the defender the victim of a particularly painful moment of misfortune as goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma punched a cross from the left into his face, with the ball cannoning back into the net.
Borussia Dortmund playmaker Kagawa volleyed into the bottom-right corner to make it 2-0 in the 66th minute, and a late flurry from Japan made the scoreline more flattering than perhaps it deserved to be.
Headers from Honda and substitute Genki Haraguchi came either side of a coolly taken 90th-minute second from Kagawa, Japan progressing as group winners.
But Syria are also through as one of four top runners-up courtesy of Jordan’s 5-1 defeat to Australia.
The home side did not have to wait long to celebrate thanks to Al Masri’s bad luck but wasted a host of chances after the opener.
Shinji Okazaki went close with an acrobatic volley and Kagawa was denied from close range by Alma after Gotoku Sakai had curled wide when one-on-one with the Syria keeper, who later thwarted Kagawa with a point-blank save
Japan midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi was taken off on a stretcher and replaced by Haraguchi in the 58th minute following a clash of heads with Khaled Al Mobayed.
Honda saw a far-post header strike the woodwork soon after, with Mahmoud Al Mawas’ long-range drive hitting the post at the other end.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s men finally got some breathing space when Kagawa smartly hit home on the turn after being teed up by Honda.
Syria pressed for a consolation in the latter stages, forcing Shusaku Nishikawa into action on a number of occasions but Honda’s 86th-minute looping header put the game beyond doubt before Kagawa slotted home on the rebound.
There was still time for a fifth courtesy of Haraguchi’s stoppage-time header as Japan finished the second round of qualifying without conceding a goal.