ABU DHABI • Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu admitted that his side were lucky to survive a scare to beat Turkmenistan 3-2 in their Asian Cup opener yesterday.
The Samurai Blue thrived at last year's World Cup in Russia, reaching the last 16 before they lost to the mighty Belgians.
But they had to fight back from a goal down at half-time against yesterday's 127th-ranked opponents in their Group F clash in Abu Dhabi, courtesy of a quickfire double from Yuya Osako.
"Somehow we managed to win," a relieved Moriyasu said in an interview immediately after the match.
"I thought that the first match will be a difficult fight... That is the difficulty of this competition.
"But the players will not stop playing and they will fight as a team.
"I think that it was good to win today for everyone... For the supporters who are here today and the supporters who are supporting in front of the TV in Japan."
Turkmenistan captain Arslanmurat Amanov put the underdogs ahead after just 26 minutes at the Al Nahyan Stadium, unleashing a ferocious long-range drive that flew into the top corner.
But Osako produced a smart turn to finish inside the box for Japan's equaliser 10 minutes into the second half, after sustained pressure from the four-time Asian champions, who were playing without their experienced stars Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki.
The Werder Bremen striker then put Japan in front four minutes later, tapping into an empty net after Yuto Nagatomo's dinked pass over goalkeeper Mamed Orazmuhamedov.
Ritsu Doan added a deflected third after 70 minutes, but Ahmet Atayev smashed home a penalty 11 minutes from time for the Emeralds to ensure a nervous finish for the Japanese.
Japan, who have failed to progress from the group stage only once since their debut in the competition in 1988, will take on Oman next and Moriyasu added that he is already looking forward to the match on Sunday.
"We are improving in all parts and winning while growing in this competition. We will prepare for the best against Oman, do our best in the game. I want to aim for growth and also a victory," he said.
Turkmenistan coach Yazguly Hojageldiyew was happy with his side's display despite the loss.
"I was actually surprised how well we did in the first half," he said. "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 another match yesterday, Uzbekistan joined Japan at the top on three points with a 2-1 win over Oman. Uzbek captain Odil Ahmedov gave his side the lead in the 34th minute before Mohsin Al Ghassani equalised in the 72nd minute. Eldor Shomurodov scored an 85th-minute winner for the 2011 semi-finalists.