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Group A: Japan 5-2 Thailand

Kuala Lumpur: Japan showed their intent as they came from a goal down to defeat Thailand 5-2 in their opening AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018 Group A match at the UM Arena on Thursday. 

Thailand, aware of their opponents’ capabilities, pushed hard from the first blow of the referee’s whistle and took the lead just 45 seconds into the match through Waragon Thongbai, who finished a brilliant pass from skipper Thanarin Thumsen.

Japan, however, were unfazed and found the equaliser five minutes later when the Thai backline failed to clear Yamauchi Kakeru’s effort from outside the box, and Araki Ryotaro latched onto the loose ball and hit it home.

Ryotaro turned provider two minutes later when he easily beat the offside trap thanks to Kakeru’s through pass, setting up a one-on-one with Thai ‘keeper Anuchid Taweesri but instead of making an attempt, he relayed the ball to the surging Kondo Kuraba to slide the ball into an unguarded goalmouth for the lead.

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Thongchai Rungreangleas’ charges played extremely despite the pressure from the two-time champions and in the 15th minute, Muenta Suphanat found the back of the net after catching the Japanese defence off guard to level the scores once again.

Japan regained their lead in the 34th minute when Naruoka Hikaru’s effort was off the mark but sailed towards Ryotaro, who headed the ball in for his second goal.

Handa Riku then etched his name on the scoresheet in the 42nd minute when Innet Pongsakron’s attempt in clearing Ryotaro’s free-kick landed at the feet of an unmarked Riku and the Japanese captain let loose a right-footed strike to double their lead.

Despite the lack of goals after the break, the second half was filled with action packed moments with Suphanat, Waragon and substitute Khetpara Kittiphong coming close to reducing Thailand’s two-goal deficit, while Japan held a strong defence and played mostly on the counter.

And a swift counter involving substitutes Ryuma Nakano and Shoji Toyama saw Toyama taking the final touch just before the final whistle to claim a spectacular win.

Japan will face Tajikistan, while Thailand go up against hosts Malaysia on Sunday.

Yoshiro Moriyama: Japan head coach

“We had such a bad start, Thailand scored in the first minute but I think our players did well coming back from behind in the first half. In the second half, we didn’t have a good game. Thailand obviously pressured us at the front, and our defenders were just clearing the ball and our strikers offence didn’t work quite well. I’m happy that we won the game and the three points but I’m not satisfied with how our game went."

Thongchai Rungreangleas: Thailand head coach

“We are happy with our players performance, they gave us their best. Some little mistakes and we conceded a goal. We know the goal (to reach the knockout stage) is difficult, and the players know this, so we will give our best for the next match, and the next."

Photos: AFC