Saitama (Japan) (AFP) – Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki celebrated his 50th international goal Tuesday as Japan brushed aside Thailand 4-0 to edge closer to a sixth successive World Cup.
Shinji Kagawa gave the hosts the lead in their Asian Group B qualifier with a sharp finish after eight minutes, before Okazaki thundered home a diving header to bring up his half-century in swashbuckling style.
Okazaki’s landmark strike, on his 108th Japan appearance, came on 19 minutes in Saitama and effectively killed the contest.
Yuya Kubo and Maya Yoshida added further goals for the Blue Samurai after the break, and Eiji Kawashima saved a late penalty from Kraison Adisak to deny rock-bottom Thailand a consolation.
Japan provisionally took top spot with 16 points from seven games, but Saudi Arabia can move above them on goal difference with victory over Iraq in Jeddah later on Tuesday.
Australia, the reigning Asian champions, are three points behind with three matches left after beating the United Arab Emirates 2-0 at home.
The top two teams from each group qualify automatically for next year’s World Cup in Russia.