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Group C: Tajikistan 1-3 Japan

Tabriz: Three first half goals laid the foundation for Japan’s 3-1 win against Tajikistan, as the East Asians kicked off their AFC U-20 Championship IR Iran 2019 Group C campaign brightly on Friday.

Japan, quarter-finalists in the 2017 edition, dominated the early possession against a Tajikistan side that opted for a more defensive approach, as the Central Asians played patiently waiting for openings to launch counter attacks.

Despite the lion’s share of control, Japan faced difficulties in penetrating Tajikistan’s blockade, with Osawa Masashi coming closest when he struck the upright in the fourth minute.

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Japan head coach Ryuji Suzuki kept Tajikistan on their toes by constantly changing his side’s formation through flying substitutions, but it was an error by Zainiddin Khurshedi in the 14th minute that proved to be costly for the Central Asians, after the forward fouled Motoishi Takehiro outside the penalty box.

Takehiro smashed the free-kick into the Tajikistan wall, but Masashi slotted the rebound past goalkeeper Bahromkhoja Sodiqkhojaev to break the deadlock.

Tajikistan kept their composure despite the deficit, but Idris Yorov lost possession in the Japanese half two minutes later, allowing Takahashi Yudai to latch onto the loose ball, where he then surged down the right and let loose a right-footed strike to double Japan’s lead.

Just moments later, it was 3-0 for Japan when Masashi turned provider with a long range pass to Otsuka Hiroto, who held his nerve against Khurshedi, before beating Sodiqkhojaev with an exceptional shot into the bottom left corner of the net.

Kyrgyz Republic, in the second half, were an entirely different team, as they began playing more aggressively and fought hard to find the back of the net, with Komron Aliev denied by the post on 26 minutes.

Japan struggled to find any shots on goal against their more lively opponents, while Tajikistan had a little more breathing space after the East Asians accrued five fouls by the 37th minute.

Skipper Nasim Sharipov managed to pull one back for Tajikistan a minute from the full-time whistle, courtesy of Samandar Rizomov’s quick pass after Japan ‘keeper Tabuchi Hiroshi failed to latch onto the ball.

But it was too little too late, as Japan enjoyed an opening day win.

Tajikistan will play Vietnam on Saturday, before Japan take their turn against the Southeast Asians on Sunday.

Eradzh Nasikhov: Tajikistan head coach

“In this sport, you never know what’s going to happen. We started well, but the first goal broke our guys a bit. We spoke to the team during the half-time break, and it helped their confidence. We were playing against Japan, one of the best teams in the tournament, so we chose to play defensive and counter attack. We will analyse today’s match and make some improvements.”

Ryuji Suzuki: Japan head coach

“First of all, I’m really happy to win the first match. It was really hard but I’m happy for the win. I think our game didn’t change throughout the match. I applaud all the players for their performance today, especially the goal scorers of course.”