Shinji Okazaki scored a hat-trick as Japan secured top spot of Group B at the Asian Cup with a 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia on Monday.
Okazaki’s treble and two goals from Ryoichi Maeda gave Japan, who led 3-0 after 20 minutes, a comfortable victory and put them into the quarter-finals where they will meet host nation Qatar.
The result capped off a humiliating tournament for 2007 runner-up Saudi Arabia as they ended the group stage without a point and without their manager Jose Periero, who was sacked after a 2-1 loss to Syria in their opening match of Asia’s premier soccer tournament.
Alberto Zaccheroni made three changes to the Japan side who scraped past Syria, with Okazaki, Yosuke Kashiwagi and Shusaku Nishikawa replacing Keisuke Honda, the injured Daisuke Matsui and the suspended Eiji Kawashima.
Saudi Arabia boss Nasser Al Johar made just one change, with Ahmed Ateef replacing Saud Khariri.
Japan did not have to wait long before taking the lead as a long ball from Yasuhito Endo caught the Saudi Arabia defence napping and Okazaki pounced for his first of the night, chipping the ball over Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah before he tapped it in from close range.
Okazaki’s second was just as easy five minutes later when his diving header from a Kashiwagi cross proved too hot to handle for Abdullah.
If the match was not already wrapped up by then, it most certainly was when Maeda grabbed his first after 19 minutes.
Again Japan attacked down the left and again poor communication between Abdullah and his defence saw Al Johar’s side concede.
A terrific ball was hit with speed by Yuto Nagatomo and Abdullah, who charged out of goal, was beaten to the ball by Maeda.
Japan were dominant and should have gone further in front if not for Kashiwagi’s wastefulness when presented with a fine opportunity by Okazaki.
But it mattered little as Zaccheroni’s side grabbed the fourth goal just after the break.
This time the goal was created on the right side of the pitch, with Japan’s tactic of getting regular crosses into the box paying off once again.
With the Saudi Arabia defence at sea, half-time substitute Masahiko Inoha’s cross was headed home by Maeda who once again beat Abdullah to the ball.
With the result secured, Japan took the foot off the pedal but were still able to grab a fifth, as Okazaki completed his hat-trick with a terrific finish.
Maeda fed Okazaki the ball on the edge of the box and the striker showed great control to create space before lashing a shot that Abdullah could only get a hand on.
A late free-kick from Mohammad Al Shalhoub nearly provided a rare moment of joy for Saudi Arabia, but his 25-yard effort was excellently saved by Nishikawa as Japan secured a clean sheet to go with their five-goal rout.