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Taskent: Goals from Katsutoshi Henmi, Kaoru Morioka and Kazuhiro Nibuya ensured Japan’s 100% record at the 2016 AFC Futsal Championship endured with a hard-fought 3-1 victory against Australia at Uzbekistan Stadium as they finished as Group D winners.

The defending champions went to the break with a 2-1 lead after Henmi’s cheeky back-heel put them in front on eight minutes and after Gregory Giovenali equalised four minutes later a thunderbolt from Morioka restored their lead just shy of the interval.

Nibuya’s 34th minute effort was the only goal of the second half as Japan made it three wins out of three and go into the quarter-finals on the front foot.

“I’m happy, because as I expected it was a really tight match, Australia’s defence was amazing and we shot at least thirty times so I have to pay credit to their keeper,” said Japan coach Miguel Rodrigo.

“We controlled the game, we pressed well, we reduced Australia to maybe three or four chances but we were superior today, I’m happy with where we are heading into the quarterfinals but it remains that Iran are the tournament favourites, not Japan.”

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While Australia began with a slightly different starting side to their previous two matches, Japan sent on big guns Yushi Sekiguchi, Morioka and Henmi from the outset and immediately caused the Futsalroos problems.

Nibuya came within centimetres of opening the scoring in the first minute when his shot was clawed back by Peter Spathis as it was about to cross the goal-line before Australia also had a good opening as Brian Griffin-Colls’ shot was sent just wide of the right-hand post.

It was the defending champions though who opened the scoring when a deflected Morioka shot was delightfully turned home via a cheeky back-heel from Henmi in the 8th minute.

Australia bounced back shortly after to level the scores through captain Giovenali, who produced a series of step-overs and drag-backs to find the narrowest of spaces, into which he launched a powerful shot past Sekiguchi in the 11th minute.

Japan had two further chances to go back in front as firstly Morioka blazed a shot wide and then Tomoki Yoshikawa’s effort was well saved down low by Spathis.

Just as it appeared the sides would go into halftime all square up popped Morioka in the 39th minute with a trademark strike from the right that whizzed past Spathis, leaving the keeper with little chance and handing the East Asian side the narrowest of leads at the break.

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The same player struck the post within thirty seconds of the restart and Tomoaki Watanabe then forced a sharp save from Spathis five minutes later before Rafael Sakai’s chip shot also narrowly missed as Japan dominated most of the attacking chances.

Australia were defending well though and looking to take their chances on the break and they had a good opening when Daniel Fogarty found himself in space on the right only to send his shot wide in the 33rd minute.

Japan eventually made their pressure pay six minutes from time when a blocked shot fell to Nibuya on the left who lobbed his shot first-time past Spathis and into the top left-hand corner to make it 3-1 and despite further pressure from the East Asians over the closing minutes that was the way the score stayed.

 “We defended well as a team as you come to expect from Australia, I have to say that Japan were deserved winners but I’m pleased with our performance,” said Australia coach Rob Varela.

“Japan are one of the best teams in Asia if not the world and they make you work hard in defence.

“While you’re never happy with a loss I’m delighted with the fact that we gave a lot of players some game time tonight and that they all followed the goals we’d given them at the outset.”

Photo: AFC