Abu Dhabi: Yuya Osako netted a quickfire double as former champions Japan survived a scare to beat Turkmenistan 3-2 in their Asian Cup opener on Wednesday.
The Blue Samurai reached the last 16 at last year's World Cup but had to fight back from a goal down at halftime in an absorbing Group F clash in Abu Dhabi.
Turkmenistan captain Arslan Amanov put the plucky underdogs ahead after 26 minutes, unleashing a ferocious long-range drive that arrowed into the top corner.
But Osako produced a smart turn and finish inside the box to equalise for Japan 10 minutes into the second half following sustained pressure from the four-time Asian champions.
The Werder Bremen striker put Japan in front four minutes later, tapping into an empty net after Yuto Nagatomo's dinked pass over goalkeeper Mammet Orazmuhammedow. Ritsu Doan added a deflected third after 70 minutes as Turkmenistan began to wilt.
But Ahmet Atayev swept home a penalty 11 minutes from time to ensure a nervous finish for Japan, who are now unbeaten in six matches since Hajime Moriyasu took charge after the World Cup.
The Japanese are seeking to make up for their Asian Cup flop four years ago when they lost on penalties to United Arab Emirates in the quarter-finals. But with a little luck Turkmenistan could easily have inflicted a major shock.
The Emeralds should arguably have been three up by halftime after Mekan Saparov headed over from point-blank range and an Atayev rocket forced Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda into a brilliant reflex save.
"I was actually surprised how well we did in the first half," said Turkmenistan coach Yazguly Hojageldiyew, adding, "we lost our way a bit in the second half, but we're not out of it yet. We'll give everything in the next two games."
Japan, only kept out of the World Cup quarter-finals by a stunning Belgium comeback from two goals down, have now lost just one of their last 29 games at the Asian Cup, excluding penalty shootouts.
But they will need to improve if they are to threaten favourites Iran — 5-0 winners over Yemen earlier this week — and a South Korea side soon to be boosted by the arrival of Tottenham forward Son Heung-min.
"The first match is always a bit special and we expected a battle. Obviously we're happy to get the three points but we have a lot of things to work on for the next game," said Moriyasu.
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Updated Date: Jan 09, 2019 20:01:09 IST