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Minamino: We're getting better and better

Al Ain: Japan livewire Takumi Minamino believes his side are gathering momentum at the perfect time, after they surged into the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final with a superb 3-0 win over Islamic Republic of Iran on Monday.

A Yuya Osako double, and Genki Haraguchi's late sealer, put the exclamation mark on what was the Samurai Blue's best performance in the competition thus far, and helped them their fifth continental decider since 1992.

Minamino, 23, was a key contributor in the win, and told the four-time champions are improving with every match.

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"Making the final is what we have been aiming for, and today we had a really tough game against one of the best teams in Asia in Iran, but I’m pleased with the way we worked together as a team to win the game," he said.

"I think we’re getting better and better. In attacking situations, I think we did well and came out on top in terms of our combinations, and I hope we are able to do the same in the final too."


Semi-final: IR Iran vs Japan

Minamino's assist for Osako's 56th-minute opening goal was arguably the most memorable moment of the contest in Al Ain, and certainly one which changed its complexion.

The Red Bull Salzburg forward went to ground while surging towards goal, but, while several Iranian players stopped to remonstrate with referee Chris Beath, he quickly rose to his feet before supplying a pinpoint delivery, which Osaka duly converted.

"For the first goal, I stumbled once and then went back to retrieve the ball and sensed that the opponent had stopped a little," Minamino reflected. "Osako was free and I’m pleased he was able to put the ball in the net."

It was Minamino's second assist for in the AFC Asian Cup, his first major tournament for Japan.

As one of 12 Japanese squad members to have entered the competition with less than 10 international appearances to his name, he is determined to enjoy the experience, rather than succumb to the pressure.

"If I just talk about myself, I play in Europe and have taken part in a lot of big games before now," he explained.

"It has been my dream since I was a child to do battle for Japan so I don’t have any fear. Before the game I had the feeling of wanting to go out there and enjoy it. That was the motivation I had."

Despite his relative youth, Minamino is no stranger to silverware.

Four Austrian league titles, three domestic cups and the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship have already been claimed in the Osaka native's burgeoning career, and his attention is now fully focused on winning the biggest title the continent has to offer.

"Whatever people are saying, all we do is believe in what we have been doing and focus on preparing to get to the final," he said.

"We haven’t lost under coach Moriyasu yet, but I don’t really think that has any bearing (on the next game), and you never know what can happen in a final.

"Now we have to go again and I think it’s vital that we work together as we have done until now in order to prepare for the final."

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