Japan secured their first victory of the 2011 Asian Cup after edging a hot-tempered encounter with Syria in a game that saw both sides reduced to 10 men.
After Makoto Hasebe opened the scoring in the 35th minute, Japan had keeper Eiji Kawashima sent off 15 minutes from time for a foul on Sanharib Malki Sabah, and Firas Al Khatib scored the resulting penalty.
The game was level for just seven minutes though as Japan were awarded a penalty of their own that Keisuke Honda confidently dispatched.
And as Syria pressed for a late leveller they too had a man sent off when Nadim Sabag was shown a second yellow card in stoppage time.
The win for Japan moves them onto four points in Group B and on target for a place in the quarter-finals.
Japan were the first to threaten after six minutes at Qatar Sports Club Stadium when Ryoichi Maeda headed wide from Atsuto Uchida's cross.
Syria had to wait until the 26th minute for their first sight of goal as Wael Ayan attempted to pick out Mohammad Al Zino inside the Japan area, but his cross was just too high for the forward.
But it was the Japanese who opened the scoring 10 minutes before half-time. Daisuke Matsui saw his powerful shot saved by Syria keeper Mosab Balhous but the ball rebounded back into the area for Shinji Kagawa, who prodded it for Hasebe to sweep home from outside the area.
The second half initially got off to a slow start with goalscoring opportunities in short supply, the most notable attempt of the first 15 minutes being a harmless Ali Dyab header straight at Kawashima.
But the game burst into life when Syria grabbed an equaliser in controversial fashion in the 75th minute.
A poor clearance from Kawashima led to a shot that had the Japan keeper scrambling to recover and he brought down Sabah, who had appeared to come from an offside position.
However, the referee pointed to the spot before opting to send off Kawashima, much to the dismay of the Japan players who vehemently protested the decision. Eventually the situation calmed allowing Al Khatib to dispatch the resulting penalty beyond substitute keeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
But Syria's joy was short-lived as Japan equalised through a penalty of their own in the 82nd minute as the lively Shinji Okazaki tumbled inside the area under the challenge of two defenders and Honda converted the spot-kick.
Syria pressed in the closing stages in the bid to snatch a late equaliser but were dealt a blow when they too were reduced to 10 men when Sabag was sent off for a second bookable offence. Japan then held on to preserve their slender lead and seal the important victory.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni hailed the performance of his players as the Blue Samurai grabbed their first win of the Asian Cup.
"It was not too tough a match for us. We scored in the first half and this was decisive because it was a totally one-sided game for Japan,'' Zaccheroni said. "Even when we were down to 10 players we performed like we had 11.
"The result against Syria was fair and I feel Japan have the potential to go far in the Asian Cup, so I am looking forward to seeing more improvement and development from us."
Japan now have four points in Group B and play Saudi Arabia on Monday hoping to cement their passage to the quarter-finals.
"The Saudis have nothing to lose in the next match so we don't know what to expect of them. They are already out so may play more relaxed but at the same time they may not want to go home with no points," Zaccheroni added.
"We must respect them because Japan is behind other countries regarding preparations so we need to keep playing well as much as possible."
After claiming a famous win over Saudi Arabia in their opening group game, Syria had hoped to claim another formidable scalp and consequently coach Tita Valeriu sent his players out with the emphasis on the attack.
That plan ultimately failed to secure the three points against Japan but Valeriu has no intention of changing his tactics for their final group game against Jordan next week.
"I was not happy with just getting a draw," he said. "My substitutions during the match show that I wanted a win.
"We played very attacking and were looking for the three points. From now on we will do our best."