Jet-lagged Japan thrash Hong Kong

HONG KONG - Japan brushed off the effects of jet-leg to beat Hong Kong 4-0 and stay top of their 2011 Asian Cup qualifying group on Wednesday.

Midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura was among the scorers for the visitors, forced to qualify for the tournament after losing the third-place playoff to South Korea two years ago.

"I'm pleased to finish the year on a winning note," Japan coach Takeshi Okada told reporters. "We should have scored more with the chances we had."

German-based midfielder Makoto Hasebe lashed a fierce right-foot shot into the top corner from 25 metres to put Japan ahead in the 32nd minute.

Japan, who held 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa to a 0-0 draw in Port Elizabeth at the weekend, added a second goal in the 74th through a header from substitute Hisato Sato.

Nakamura, of Spain's Espanyol, curled in a free kick 10 minutes later before striker Shinji Okazaki converted a penalty in the last minute for his 15th goal in 20 internationals.

The "Blue Samurai" have nine points from four matches in Group A, putting the three-times Asian Cup champions within reach of the finals in Qatar.

Hong Kong remain at the foot of Group A without a point and are all but out of the running for a place at the finals.

Hosts Qatar, Asian Cup holders Iraq, 2007 runners-up Saudi Arabia and third-place playoff winners South Korea have already qualified.

India are also assured of their spot courtesy of victory in last year's AFC Challenge Cup.