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MD4 - Group F: Tajikistan 0-3 Japan

Dushanbe: Takumi Minamino’s second half brace ensured Japan’s winning start to the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 continued on Tuesday with the East Asians claiming a 3-0 victory over Tajikistan in Dushanbe.

Two goals in two minutes from the Red Bull Salzburg star saw off a determined Tajikistan before Takuma Asano completed the scoring eight minutes from time as Hajime Moriyasu’s side moved into pole position on their own in Group F with a maximum nine points.

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The Japanese struggled on the artificial pitch in the first half at the Republican Central Stadium and the visitors looked most threatening from set-pieces, with Shoya Nakajima’s delivery almost unlocking the home defence on several occasions.

Maya Yoshida forced Tajikistan goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov into action 13 minutes into the game when his volleyed attempt was comfortably kept out while the defender was unfortunate just after the half hour mark when his header – again from a Nakajima corner – was wide of the target.

Tajikistan’s wingers Ehsoni Panshanbe and Jahongir Ergashev carried a threat and Panshanbe would have opened the scored 25 minutes into the game but for a fine save from Shuichi Gonda, whose reaction with his left hand was enough to kept out the goal-bound effort.

Japan, though, should have gone into the break in front, with Minamino at fault as the visitors failed to take advantage of a gilt-edged chance. Daichi Kamada fed Nakajima down the left and his centre reached the unmarked striker, only for his header to find the arms of Yatimov.

After labouring for much of the first half, the Japanese were energised as the second period kicked off and, eight minutes after the restart, Minamino finally found the net with a header that bore similarities with his earlier miss. This time, though, he directed Nakajima’s cross beyond Yatimov.

Two minutes later the 24-year-old doubled Japan’s lead with a deft flick to finish off a flowing move that ended with Hiroki Sakai’s low ball towards Minamino, who steered his backheel out of the reach of the sprawling goalkeeper.

Either side of Minamino’s quick-fire double, Alisher Dzhalilov and Manuchekhr Dzalilov both had chances to score for the home side, but solid defending and poor finishing denied the home side.

With eight minutes left substitute Asano rose highest to meet Sakai’s inviting cross from the right to end Tajikistan’s resistance as Japan took all three points.

Photos: Tajikistan Football Federation

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