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Japan surge to title

Tabriz: Japan clinched their first AFC U-20 Futsal Championship title after overcoming Afghanistan 3-1 in the final at the Pour Sharifi Stadium on Saturday. 

It was an intense match from the start, as Afghanistan wasted no time in signalling their intent when Seyed Hossein Mousavi sent a brilliant pass into the box which Ali Arab Zada shot just wide in the first minute.

The back-and-forth action was non-stop as Japan adapted well to the Central Asian team's pressure, and forced ‘keeper Mohammad Javad Safari into action in the third minute, denying Otsuka Hiroto’s effort.

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Japan came close again three minutes later when goalkeeper Tabuchi Hiroshi’s long range throw found Motoishi Takehiro in the final third, who set up Jiei Yamada but Javad Safari was firm with his block.

Mousavi, Afghanistan's leading goal scorer with six goals, displayed his individual skill in the seventh minute when he outdribbled Kimura Yuta on the left flank but was only able to force a parry out of Hiroshi.

Japan were far from overawed and in the ninth minute, Takahashi Yudai stole the spotlight when he surged from the half-line mark and beat Javad Safari with a right-footed effort to open the scoring.

Unfazed by the deficit and backed by a partisan crowd in the stands, Afghanistan continued with their gameplan and came close in the 15th minute when Takehiro’s kick-in was deflected off Hamid Reza Hossaini’s chest and towards the Japanese half.

Afghanistan were quick to move on the counter-attack with Hassan Ali Jafari leading the way but Hiroshi stood tall to deny them.

The East Asians, always formidable with their set-pieces, displayed their prowess a minute later through a corner kick.

The action began with Kimura Yuta’s strike deflected back to him, which he then immediately passed to Matsukawa Kota in the box, who teed Osawa Masashi for a fine finish to make it 2-0.

Afghanistan continued with their intense pressing in the second half but Japan comfortably dealt with the threat, and their key player had to be Hiroshi, who pulled out save after save to maintain their lead.

Afghanistan had the lion’s share of possession, but failed to translate it into goals and had to call on Hassan Ali Jafari as their power player in the 32nd minute.

However, his services were not needed when Reza Hossaini received a pass in the final third, and he outwitted Hatakeyama Yuki before letting loose a strike that was too swift for Hiroshi to react as Afghanistan reduced the deficit.

Afghanistan went in search of the equaliser but Japan held firm and sealed victory in the 38th minute with Hiroshi firing into an unguarded goalmouth to seal Japan’s win.

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