MD5 - Group F: Kyrgyz Republic 0-2 Japan
Bishkek: A goal in each half steered Japan to a 2-0 win over Kyrgyz Republic on Thursday as the Samurai Blue maintained their perfect record in Group F of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
Takumi Minamino converted a penalty kick just before the half-time break, and Genki Haraguchi netted a free-kick just after it, as Hajime Moiryasu’s side took a six-point lead at the top of Group F at the half-way point of the second round of the Asian Qualifiers.
Kyrgyz Republic’s defeat is their second in four matches, but goal difference puts them ahead of their next opponents Tajikistan, who suffered a 4-3 loss to Myanmar.
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Appearing in Bishkek for the first time, Japan added Wataru Endo, Kensuke Nagai and Junya Ito to the side that beat Tajikistan last time out, but with a packed crowd in to witness one of the city’s most keenly anticipated matches in years, the hosts were determined to give their fans reason to celebrate.
With youngster Gulzhigit Alykulov regularly involved, they began brightly, albeit without threatening Japanese goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, before Minamino’s first significant involvement of the match saw him send a header wide after being left unmarked at the other end of the pitch.
Minamino had an even better chance when he slipped behind the Kyrgyz Republic defence in the 18th minute, only to be denied, this time, by a terrific low save from Kutman Kadyrbekov, who had undergone heart surgery since his last appearance for the senior national team in January.
Kadyrbekov showed a safe pair of hands on a number of occasions as Japan increased the pressure later in the half, but the 22-year-old goalkeeper went from hero to villain just before half-time, when he clumsily fouled Minamino in the penalty area.
Taking the responsibility himself, Minamino eased the spot-kick home in the 41st minute – his fifth goal in four starts this campaign - giving Moriyasu’s men the lead at half-time, and ever so slightly dampening the hopes of the 17,543 fans in attendance
Those hopes were dented further eight minutes after the interval, when Haraguchi doubled the lead with a well-placed free-kick, beating a sprawling Kadyrbekov from 25 yards to put the Samurai Blue within sight of another three points.
Mirlan Murzaev had a rare effort on target moments later as the hosts tried to salvage something from the tie, and the Dordoi forward had Kyrgyz Republic’s best scoring opportunity of the night in the 67th minute, but it went begging thanks to a point-blank Gonda save.
Those near-misses realistically ended Kyrgyz Republic’s challenge, with their attention now turning to a crucial meeting with Tajikistan on Tuesday, while Japan completed their competitive 2019 calendar with much to look forward to in the new year.
Photos: Football Federation of the Kyrgyz Republic
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