Ahmed Khalil scored twice as United Arab Emirates punished Japan for missing a host of chances by winning 2-1 at the Saitama Stadium in the third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup on Thursday.
The hosts made a strong start when an unmarked Keisuke Honda headed in Hiroshi Kiyotake's free kick in the 11th minute to give the four-times Asian champions a 1-0 lead in a Group B match played in front of a sellout crowd of 65,000.
The Emiratis equalised nine minutes later when Khalil, the Asian player of the year, netted.
Japan goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa could only tip Khalil's curling 25-metre free kick into the top corner.
Khalil made it 2-1 from the penalty spot in the 54th minute after Ismail Al Hammadi was brought down.
The UAE now face Asian champions Australia in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday while Japan travel to Bangkok for their next match against Thailand.
Australia also made a confident start to their campaign with a 2-0 victory over Iraq in Perth.
Zheng Zhi's early own goal ultimately condemned China to a 3-2 defeat to South Korea despite a spirited fight-back in their 2018 World Cup qualifier.
China's talisman became their fall-guy as he inadvertently bundled Son Heung-Min's free kick into his own net on 20 minutes at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Lee Chung-Yong and Koo Ja-Cheol both scored to pile on the pain for China but the visitors nearly hauled their way back into it following late strikes from Yu Hai and Hao Junmin.