Japan and Palestine are the early pacesetters in Group D after both teams secured opening day wins in the AFC U23 Asian Cup 2024 Qualifiers last night.
Japan top the standings on better goal difference following a 6-0 win over Pakistan, with Palestine defeating Bahrain 1-0.
It was a counter attacking move in the 91st minute that saw Zeid Qunbar run through on goal with his quick shot leaving Bahrain keeper Salman Adel Alisa stranded.
Bahrain were left to rue their missed chances, having dominated the match with the best opportunity coming midway through the first half when Abdulla Ali Alsubaiei rounded Palestine custodian Abdelhadi Yassin only to send his shot into the side netting.
Pushing players up in search of a late winner, Bahrain left gaps at the back which Palestine and Qunbar exploited to good effect to secure the three points.
Japan, the 2016 champions, kicked off their qualifying campaign with a six star performance.
After producing two top-notch saves, Salman Ul Haq could not deny Japan’s opening goal in the 11th minute when Ryuya Nishio connected with a precise corner kick.
It took Japan until late in the first half to add to their advantage, scoring twice in a space of four minutes through Shunsuke Mito (43rd) and Mao Hosoya (45th+2) for a comfortable lead going into the break.
Japan continued to pile on the pressure in the second half and increased their lead from the penalty spot, first from Hosoya (51st) then captain Joel Chima Fujita in the 59th minute.
Matching Hosoya’s contribution, Mito also grabbed a second when he struck in the 64th minute.
Japan meet Palestine next on Saturday with the winners potentially securing early qualification to the Finals. Bahrain will be looking to recover lost ground against Pakistan on the same day.