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Japan's Asano thrilled with goal-den return

Dushanbe: Substitute striker Takuma Asano was delighted to see his name on the scoresheet as Japan racked up a third straight win in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 on Tuesday with a 3-0 victory over Tajikistan in Dushanbe.

Asano came off the bench to head home Japan’s third after Takumi Minamino had scored twice in two minutes earlier in the second half as Hajime Moriyasu’s side eventually saw off a stubborn Tajikistan.

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“It’s been quite a long time since I was on the pitch with the national team and the most important thing is the win for the team, but it was nice personally to be able to score a goal,” said Asano, who is currently on the books of Serbian side Partizan after a period spent on loan in Germany with Hannover 96.

“Even though the last year or so has been difficult at club level with a couple of different moves, I never gave up hope and kept aiming for a return to the national team and once you’re on the pitch it’s the same, regardless of what’s happened before so that was a positive.

“We know that there’s still a long road ahead and plenty of matches to come so we need to make sure that we keep doing our best.”

Japan lead Group F with nine points from three games and Moriyasu’s side are three points clear of Central Asian duo Tajikistan and Kyrgyz Republic with five games remaining.

Minamino’s second half brace came after a frustrating opening 45 minutes for the Japanese and the 24-year-old was relieved he and his teammates will leave Dushanbe with the three points in their pocket.

“We knew coming into the match that this was a difficult game because Tajikistan also had two wins from their two matches. and that was the case in the first half where they made things quite difficult for us,” he said.

“In the second half we managed to create quite a few chances, especially from crosses, but we were still made to work hard for the goals that we scored and so it’s a satisfying win.”

Those sentiments were backed by captain Maya Yoshida, who put in another solid display in defence as Japan kept a third consecutive clean sheet.

“Even if it wasn’t perhaps the best performance, it’s important to get these three points, especially if we consider the difference between playing at home and away and also against an opponent that made things very difficult for us, especially in the first half,” he said.

“As the second half wore on and we made some changes we also saw that more space started to open up and we were able to take advantage of that.”

Moriyasu, meanwhile, praised his team and dedicated the win to those affected at home by the impact of Typhoon Hagibis, which hit the country over the weekend.

“We knew that coming to this away match that things were going to be difficult and the players knew that too so we’re satisfied with the result,” he said.

“The players really wanted to play with a great spirit and focus for the supporters back in Japan after the natural disaster and I feel that they showed that spirit on the pitch and this win is dedicated to those fans.”

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