Japan have survived a scare to begin their quest for a fifth Asian Cup with victory.
The Samurai Blue overturned a 1-0 halftime deficit to defeat Turkmenistan 3-2 while, in the other games on Wednesday, Qatar beat Lebanon 2-0 and Uzbekistan overcame Oman 2-1.
Japan, fielding a young team without experienced stars such as midfielder Shinji Kagawa and forward Shinji Okazaki, came into the clash with the Asian Cup’s second-lowest ranked team unbeaten since last year’s World Cup.
Despite that form, Turkmenistan took a shock lead through a wonderful long-range strike by Arslanmurat Amanov in the first half.
Three second-half goals in quick succession turned the game around.
Yuya Osako scored in the 56th and 60th minutes, the latter following a goalkeeping error, and Ritsu Doan made it 3-1.
Ahmet Atayev converted a penalty kick for a nervy finish but Japan held on to take the three points.
“It was predictable that the first match of the tournament would be a difficult one, and that is something which I shared with the team,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said after the match.
“It turned out to be just as we had predicted, but the good thing was that we won and that we could deliver a victory to our fans both here in the UAE and back home in Japan. However, for the next match, we must improve in both defence and attack.”
In the other Group F match, Eldor Shomurodov’s late winner was enough for Uzbekistan to overcome former Socceroo coach Pim Verbeek’s Oman in Sharjah.
Qatar’s win over Lebanon came amid political tension with the host nation.
Reports last week emerged that dignitaries and journalists from Qatar had been barred from entering the United Arab Emirates, which has blockaded its Gulf state rival alongside Saudi Arabia.
Qatar’s win was its first in 35 years at an Asian Cup where it hasn’t been host and a vital one for a nation desperate to prove its footballing credentials ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Iraqi-born Bassam Al-Rawi curled in a free kick in the 65th minute to open the scoring and Almoez Ali made it 2-0 from a rebound 14 minutes later.
Thursday features the first matches in the second round of group games.
India will be out to book its place in the knockout stages against the host nation after a 4-1 win last Sunday over Thailand, while the Thais aim to bounce back against Bahrain.
Australia’s conquerors Jordan take on Syria in Al Ain, knowing a victory will put them into the last 16 and make them favourites to top Group B.