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MD2 - Group F: Myanmar 0-2 Japan

Yangon: Japan were rarely troubled in their opening Group F fixture in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, defeating Myanmar 2-0 at Thuwunna Stadium on Tuesday.

Early goals from Shoya Nakajima and Takumi Minamino proved decisive for Hajime Moriyasu’s side, who began their campaign with a minimum of fuss ahead of next month’s fixtures against Mongolia and Tajikistan.

While the four-time Asian champions were good value for their opening win, Myanmar’s defeat leaves them at the bottom of Group F, having also been beaten 1-0 by Mongolia in their opening fixture last Thursday.

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More than a quarter of a century since their last failure to qualify for a major tournament, Japan began their Asian Qualifiers campaign with a familiar ascendancy, controlling possession and nearly taking an early lead as Minamino sent a low effort narrowly wide of Kyaw Zin Phyo’s net inside five minutes.

With Myanmar almost immediately forced to defend in numbers, it seemed inevitable that Japan’s goal wouldn’t be long in arriving, and it was delivered in spectacular style by Nakajima, who cut in from the left-hand channel before curling a tremendous 25-yard effort into the far corner of the net.

Zin Phyo produced a fine reflex save to deny Tomiyasu Takehiro’s point-blank header, but there was little he could do to intervene moments later as newly-arrived PSV Eindhoven playmaker Ritsu Doan expertly supplied an unmarked Minamino, who doubled the lead with a headed effort of his own in the 26th minute.

At that stage it looked like Japan might build an insurmountable lead by half-time, but Myanmar reached the interval without further damage, then lifted the early stages of the second half, with Aung Thu even calling the hitherto unseen Shuichi Gonda into action with a long-range effort.

But that was a brief moment of hope for Myanmar, with the visitors looking by far the team most likely to add to their tally, and with Minamino, Doan and Yuya Osako all going close to doing so.

In truth, Japan should have extended their lead further; creating, and failing to take, opportunities even after the withdrawal of Doan and Minamino, with substitute Junya Ito having a particularly forgettable moment when he lobbed the ball straight into Zin Phyo’s path after being put clean through on goal.

But, while third goal didn’t materialise, Japan’s three points had long been secured, as one Asia’s perennial contenders completed a steady first step on the road to another major tournament.

Japan host Mongolia on Matchday 3 on October 10 while Myanmar will face Kyrgyz Republic away on the same day.

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