There is no doubt who has been Japan’s principal star in the third round of Asian Zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Shinji Okazaki hit their equaliser in a 1-1 draw in Uzbekistan, scored twice in the 8-0 thrashing of Tajikistan, and posted another brace as they beat the same opponents 4-0 in Dushanbe today to secure a place in the next phase with two games to spare.
The 25-year-old, who has impressed for Stuttgart since joining them from Shimizu S-Pulse earlier this year, nonetheless played down his role in the Samurai Blue’s latest victory.
"My job was straightforward,” Okazaki said. “[Shinji] Kagawa and Hiroshi [Kiyotake] created several chances, and all I had to do was put the ball in the net. Tajikistan were much stronger than they were when we played them at home last month, so we are pleased to have come away with a positive result.”
A less likely marksman for Alberto Zaccheroni’s team in the Tajik capital was centre-back Yasuyuki Konno, who was on target for the first time in what was his 53rd international. The FC Tokyo man, 28, actually began the move which led to his goal, concluding a Tajikistan break with a fine sliding challenge in his own half, before racing upfield and blasting home a rebound to break the deadlock.
"I'm happy that I was able to facilitate the entire process, beginning with the interception and ending with the shot,” Konno said.
Japan will spend two days in Beijing, before heading to face the now-eliminated Korea DPR in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
In the fourth round of Asian Zone qualifying, ten teams will be split into two groups, with the top two from each automatically reaching Brazil 2014. Japan are bidding to appear at their fifth successive FIFA World Cup.