Yuya Osako’s quickfire double spared Japan’s blushes against lowly Turkmenistan as Uzbekistan’s late winner saw off Oman at the Asian Cup on Wednesday.
Arslan Amanov’s first-half rocket raised the prospect of a titanic upset of the four-time champions but Osako’s brace restored order before Ritsu Doan appeared to make the game safe.
However, Ahmet Atayev buried a penalty 11 minutes from time before Japan survived to win 3-2, a further reminder that the big teams have not had it all their own way at this Asian Cup.
“The first match is always a bit special and we expected a battle,” said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu, who was relieved to get off to a winning start in Group F.
“Obviously we’re happy to get the three points but we have a lot of things to work on for the next game.”
Earlier in the opening group games, defending champions Australia were shocked 1-0 by Jordan, South Korea laboured to a 1-0 win over the Philippines and China needed an own goal to spark their 2-1 comeback win against Kyrgyzstan.
The Blue Samurai have arguably the best pedigree in the competition after reaching the last 16 of last year’s World Cup and were not expected to be troubled by Turkmenistan, the world number 127.
But Turkmen captain Amanov put the heavy underdogs ahead after 26 minutes in Abu Dhabi, unleashing a ferocious long-range drive that arrowed into the top corner.
Osako produced a smart turn and finish inside the box to equalise for Japan 10 minutes into the second half after sustained pressure from the former 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.
Doan added a deflected third after 70 minutes, but Atayev smashed in a penalty nine minutes later to ensure more anxious moments for the Japanese.
“I was actually surprised how well we did in the first half,” said Turkmenistan coach Yazguly Hojageldiyew.
“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.”
In Wednesday’s other Group F fixture, in Sharjah, Eldor Shomurodov was the hero for Uzbekistan as he struck four minutes from time to grab a 2-1 win.
Shanghai SIPG midfielder Odil Ahmedov fired the White Wolves ahead on 34 minutes with a low free kick that pierced the Oman wall and crept past goalkeeper Faiz Al-Rushaidi.
Oman’s Muhsen Al-Ghassani levelled midway through the second half but as full time loomed, Shomurodov shrugged off the attentions of two defenders and beat Al-Rushaidi at his near post to clinch victory.