Soccer

Japan sets tone with two first-half goals in victory over Paraguay

Kyodo

Japan heads into its first game of World Cup qualifying next week on a high after knocking off Paraguay 2-0 Thursday in a friendly.

Yuya Osako scored Japan’s 23rd-minute opener and Takumi Minamino added the second seven minutes later as the hosts kept Paraguay on its back feet for the first half an hour.

“We were able to keep a clean sheet and win 2-0, but the best scenario would have been to add another goal and win 3-0,” Samurai Blue head coach Hajime Moriyasu said after the game at Kashima Stadium. “But that is a task for us to solve starting from our next game.”

Playing with a lot of energy from the opening whistle, Moriyasu’s side was poised in the face of challenges, moved the ball well and repeatedly threatened to score.

Osako knocked in a cross from veteran left back Yuto Nagatomo. Osako, who has scored three times in three games this season for Werder Bremen, side-footed the ball off the post for his 15th international goal.

Two minutes later, after a tense battle in its own penalty area following a Paraguay free kick, a Japan counter left Ritsu Doan with a one-on-one with ‘keeper Gatito Fernandez. But instead of rounding him, Doan elected to shoot with his first touch and hit the ball straight at Fernandez.

Minamino, who missed an early chance to score, made amends in the 30th minute. The Red Bull Salzburg player, with three goals from five games this season in Austria, was the beneficiary of some good work by his teammates.

Shoya Nakajima picked out right back Hiroki Sakai in space on the right flank, and the Marseilles defender crossed with his first touch to Minamino, who easily scored his sixth goal for Japan.

The introduction of 18-year-old Takefusa Kubo at the start of the second half electrified the crowd, who roared with the teenager’s every touch. Kubo, in his first Spanish La Liga season with Mallorca, nearly scored in the 69th minute from a very tight angle, his shot coming off the bottom of the bar.

Japan, which enters Asian qualifying for the World Cup in the second round, plays its first Group F match away at Myanmar next Tuesday.

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