Japan motors on as Honda penalty sinks Iraq

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Japan made it two wins from two at the AFC Asian Cup 2015 with a 1-0 success over Iraq thanks to Keisuke Honda’s 23rd-minute penalty.

Both teams headed into the Group D encounter at Brisbane Stadium having won their pool openers and seeking to put one foot in the knockout stages.

And it was defending champion Japan which clinched the points, Javier Aguirre's side proving too strong for Iraq and its only disappointment will be the fact it failed to win by a more comfortable scoreline.

Japan took the lead in the first half when Honda scored a penalty for the second group match in a row after also netting from 12 yards in the 4-0 win over Palestine.

The AC Milan midfielder impressed throughout and hit the woodwork on three occasions, the last of which coming when he somehow managed to hit the post with the goal unguarded.

It made no difference, though, and Japan now just needs to avoid defeat against Jordan to guarantee its qualification from the knockout stages.

Iraq - which beat Jordan 1-0 in its opener - must better the result of Ray Wilkins's men in its contest with Palestine.

Japan started on the front foot and Shinji Kagawa fired just wide after good set-up play from Honda, who troubled the woodwork for the first time soon after from Yuto Nagatomo's pin-point delivery inside the six-yard area.

Iraq goalkeeper Jalal Hassan then made a superb point-blank save from Kagawa's close-range shot, but from the rebound Honda was sandwiched by two challenges and referee Alireza Faghani pointed to the spot.

Honda picked himself and confidently rolled the penalty into the bottom right-hand corner to hand Japan a 23rd-minute lead.

Shinji Okazaki could have doubled the lead but he headed straight at Hassan when unmarked in the area, while at the other end Younis Mahmoud failed to make clean contact with Amjad Kalaf's low centre.

The impressive Honda went agonisingly close to a second shortly after the break when he bent a superb 25-yard effort onto the crossbar.

From there Iraq started to display signs of improvement and Radhi Shenaishil's men showed threats on both flanks, although Japan's defence soundly dealt with the pressure.

Having soaked up Iraq's advances, Japan should have ended the contest in the 65th minute when Nagatomo's low centre across the six-yard box picked out Honda, who inexplicably hit the post with the goal wide open.

Japan continued to turn the screw as Iraq appeared to tire and Kagawa tested Hassan with a stinging shot from the edge of the box.

Aguirre's men had to settle for the one goal, though, but Japan can head into the final group stage fixture safe in the knowledge that its fate lies firmly in its own hands.

Source: Omnisport