SAITAMA-Leicester City striker 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 goal, 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 Adisak Kraisorn to deny rock-bottom Thailand a consolation.

Japan, who won 2-0 in the United Arab Emirates last Thursday, provisionally took top spot with 16 points from seven games. But Saudi Arabia can move back above them on goal difference with victory over Iraq in Jeddah later on Tuesday. "I'm incredibly happy to get that goal," Okazaki told reporters. "I hadn't scored for a while so it was a relief. Hopefully I can keep on scoring goals for Japan." "We're not at the World Cup yet," he added. "We have to make sure we keep taking our chances and win our remaining games."

Australia, the reigning Asian champions, are three points behind Japan with three matches left after beating the Emirates 2-0 at home. The top two teams from each group qualify automatically for next year's World Cup in Russia. Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic refused to get carried away after a great week for his side. "I have to congratulate the players on two super victories," said the Franco-Bosnian. "It wasn't an easy game today and they gave us a few problems but we produced an effective performance."

"We scored four lovely goals, which helps our cause as goal difference could prove to be crucial," he added. "But we have put ourselves in a good position to qualify for the World Cup with three big games left."

Australia beat UAE to boost World Cup hopes: In Sydney, Australia boosted their World Cup qualifying hopes on Tuesday with a tense, 2-0 win over UAE, whose under-pressure coach Mahdi Ali announced his resignation after the match.

Goals from Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie handed Australia a crucial victory which kept them in touch with the top two spots in Group B and an automatic berth at Russia 2018. It was a tense, niggling encounter in Sydney with a total of 42 fouls, 26 committed by the home side, but the first of five yellow cards was not shown until the 80th minute.

The Asian champions now have 13 points, after starting the day three adrift of group leaders Japan and Saudi Arabia. "Everyone stressed the importance to us before the game and it was just about keeping calm and composed and taking our opportunities when they came," Australia skipper Mile Jedinak said.

"We squandered a few chances and might have got the second goal a little bit earlier, but in the end the boys delivered tonight and that's all we can ask." While Australia lived to fight on, there were tears in the UAE camp with their qualification hopes now looking remote.

UAE coach Ali, with a talented squad at his disposal, has come under increasing fire during a campaign which appears doomed after four defeats in seven games. Australia midfielder Irvine, who plays for Burton Albion in the English Championship, gave the Socceroos a sixth-minute lead with his first international goal.

Irvine attacked James Troisi's corner and had a free header into the UAE goal. But UAE remained dangerous with their talismanic playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, the Asian player of the year, forcing a flying save from goalkeeper Mat Ryan in the 17th minute.

The Australians were failing to make their passes stick with several cheap turnovers, while Abdulrahman was fouled six times in the opening half, underlining the threat he posed.

South Korea squeeze past Syria 1-0: In Seoul, Hong Jeong-Ho's early goal gave South Korea a 1-0 win over war-torn Syria on Tuesday to put their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track. China-based Hong struck in the fourth minute but it was an unconvincing margin of victory for the Koreans, who were upset 1-0 by China last week. Uli Stielike's men remain well placed at second in Group A with three games to go. The top two qualify automatically for next year's World Cup in Russia.