Japan win record third title
Kuala Lumpur: Japan clinched the AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018 title after securing a hard-fought 1-0 win over Tajikistan in the final at the National Stadium on Sunday.
Jun Nishikawa's 63rd minute strike secured Japan a record third AFC U-16 Championship title as Yoshiro Moriyama's side overcame a steely Tajikistan.
Both sides opted for a cautious approach in the opening minutes but Japan, who made four changes to the lineup that had started in the semi-final against Australia, slowly gained the upperhand with Nishikawa on the left flank sending crosses into the box.
Tajikistan, who were camped mostly in their own half, depended on counter attacks and Rustam Soirov had a glimpse at goal in the 10th minute when he made his way past two defenders but shot wide.
Japan came close to opening the scoring in the 23rd minute when Nishikawa intercepted a pass and sent the ball forward to Shoji Toyama but with only the goalkeeper to beat, the livewire shot straight into the arms of Mukhriddin Khasanov.
A Tajikistan counter-attack a minute later saw Nidoyor Zabirov surging down the middle before sending a through pass to an unmarked Islom Zairov but his strike to the bottom left corner was saved by diving Japanese goalkeeper Taishi Brandon Nozawa.
Zaynidin Rakhimov’s Tajikistan had coped well with the incessant Japanese pressure but in the 42nd minute, the Tajik backline was caught off guard when Shunsuke Mito found Nishikawa at the edge of the box but he sent his shot over the crossbar.
Japan may have controlled possession but as the half time whistle was blown, Tajikistan would have been pleased with their defensive resolve.
Japan started the second half on the front foot and sent on Ryuma Nakano in the 54th minute, and after just five minutes, Ryuma headed in Keita Nakano’s brilliant lob but much to Tajikistan’s relief, the goal was ruled offside.
The East Asians persistence, however, was finally rewarded in the 63rd minute with Nakano sidestepping Emomali Ahmadkhon and sending in his cross to an unguarded Nishikawa - subsequently named the Most Valuable Player - who let loose a half-volley into the bottom right corner of the net to break the deadlock.
Tajikistan tried to mount a comeback but Japan held on to celebrate a third AFC U-16 Championship title.