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Tashkent: Tomoaki Watanbe’s solitary strike saw reigning champions Japan make a successful start to the defence of their AFC Futsal Championship crown on Thursday, but they were forced to work hard for their 1-0 Group D win over Qatar.

“Of course I’m not satisfied with aspects of our performance,” said Japan coach Miguel Rodrigo.

“I felt our players were nervous tonight and while we were good defensively in limiting Qatar to only two real chances we were maybe just at 30% in terms of our attacking ability and we have to get better.

“But, as I said pre-match, Qatar are a vastly improved side and the one-goal margin was an accurate indication of the match.” 

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In front of a vocal band of Japanese supporters at Uzbekistan Stadium, Japan made the brighter start with the impressive Katsutoshi Henmi forcing a sharp, low, save from Abdulrahman Mohsin in the first minute before Tomoki Yoshikawa saw his shot crash into the underside of the bar a minute later.

Qatar responded, though, and Lucas Oliveira made Yushi Sekiguchi work to deny his 4th minute effort and then Flavio danced his way past several Japanese players with only a desperate late tackle preventing him from scoring.

The Qatari resistance held until the 16th minute when they were paid for a momentary lapse of concentration.

Henmi was left unmarked in space just inside the Qatari half and with the defence retreating he was able to guide a shot towards goal that Watanabe got the faintest touch to as Mohsin was heading in the opposite direction.

That saw the sides go to the break with Japan holding the narrowest of leads and early in the second period the East Asian side again continued to pile on the pressure.

Tomoki Yoshikawa and Watanabe both had good efforts inside the first five minutes of the second term but the best of the chances fell to Shota Hoshi midway through the half when he saw his shot rifle back off the right-hand post.

Kaoru Morioka’s effort was well saved by Mohsin as the half wore on and then Qatar had one final push to try and earn a point.

Over the final three and a half minutes the side initiated a series of power-plays as Japan sat deeper and deeper, inviting them to shoot.

The chances they did muster though were either wide of the goal or fairly easily saved as Japan held on for the narrow victory.

“Japan are very difficult opponents. They are the champions and we are here just for the third time but we showed what we can do and we feel that we deserved more from this game,” said Qatar coach Tiago De Sousa.

“Sometimes decisions don’t always go the way of the smaller nations but we tried with our skills to show what we can and we cannot go home without a win. I promise you we will win for sure.”

Photo: AFC