Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Toyota: Japan took their goal tally in 2016 to 17 in three games following an impressive 7-2 victory over Bulgaria in their opening fixture of the four-team Kirin Cup friendly tournament on Friday.
The four-time Asian champions went into match at the Toyota Stadium having concluded their 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup joint-qualifying campaign with successive 5-0 wins over Afghanistan and Syria in Saitama back in March.
Inaugural AFC International Player of the Year Shinji Kagawa, who scored twice against the Syrians, bagged a first-half brace against the Bulgarians while Maya Yoshida was also on target twice in Friday’s one-sided win, with Japan’s other goals coming from Shinji Okazaki, Takashi Usami, and Takuma Asano.
Japan needed just four minutes to open the scoring with Okazaki, fresh from celebrating an English Premier League title with Leicester City, broke the deadlock before Borussia Dortmund attacker Kagawa put the hosts firmly in the driving seat with goals in the 27th and 35th minutes.
Yoshida gave Japan a four-goal cushion to take into the break with his first of the match in the 38th minute before the Southampton defender scored his second and Japan’s fifth eight minutes after into the second half.
Substitute Usami, who replaced Kagawa a minute before the interval, made it 6-0 in the 57th minute with his third international goal but Bulgaria, who defeated Japan 2-1 in the 2006 Kirin Cup before going on to lose 5-1 to Scotland in the final, reduced the deficit just two minutes later through midfielder Mihali Alexandrov.
Ivaylo Chochev scored a second for the Bulgaria with eight minutes left to play but it was the hosts that would have the final say in the scoring stakes with substitute Asano, who entered the fray just before the hour mark when he came on for Kawasaki Frontale forward Yu Kobayashi, scored number seven in the 87th minute to seal an impressive win for Vahid Halihodzic’s side.
The former Al Ittihad coach, who led Algeria to the Round of 16 at the Brazil 2014 having become the first African team to score four goals in a World Cup match following a 4-2 victory over Korea Republic in the Group Stage, will now lead Japan against his native Bosnia-Herzegovina in Tuesday’s Kirin Cup final.
The Balkan nation defeated Denmark 4-3 on penalties after regulation time of Friday’s other fixture at the Toyota Stadium ended in a 2-2 draw, with defender Simon Kjaer put the Danes one up after 22 minutes before Viktor Fischer doubled the lead four minutes from the half-time interval.
Milan Duric reduced the deficit seven minutes after the restart before the Italy-based forward beat Okazaki’s Leicester City team-mate Kasper Schmeichel for a second time with eight minutes later, as the Bosnians levelled the match despite having been reduced to ten men in the 70th minute, when 2013 AFC Referee of the Year Ben Williams had dismissed defender Ognjen Vranješ.
Japan resume their their qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on September 1 when they renew acquaintances with the United Arab Emirates, who knocked them out of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup at the quarter-final stage, before facing Thailand in Bangkok five days later.
In addition to the 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and the Thais, who have yet to qualify for world football’s biggest tournament, Japan will face AFC Cup holders Australia, 2007 continental champions Iraq, and four-time FIFA World Cup participants Saudi Arabia in Group B of the final round of Asian qualifiers for Russia ’18.
The winner and runner-up of Groups A and B will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia finals while the third-placed teams of each group will advance to the Asian Play-off Round, with the victorious side taking on the team that finishes fourth in the fifth round of the CONCACAF qualifiers in a two-legged inter-confederation play-off.