SAITAMA – In the sumo ring, wrestlers from Mongolia rule the roost against their Japanese opponents.
On the soccer pitch, Japan is clearly still king.
Takumi Minamino scored in his third straight match, veteran defender Yuto Nagatomo netted his first international goal in 10 years and Junya Ito recorded three first-half assists as the Samurai Blue romped to a 6-0 win over Mongolia on Thursday night.
Japan’s first home game of joint qualifying for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup saw a crowd of 43,122 endure occasional rain and chilly temperatures. Among those in attendance was retired rikishi Asashoryu, the former yokozuna who is one of the most famous Mongolians in Japan.
After 22 minutes of one-way — but scoreless — traffic toward the Mongolian goal, Ito’s pinpoint cross was headed in by fellow midfielder Minamino. It was the Salzburg man’s eighth international goal and second of the qualifying round after he slotted in against Myanmar last month.
“We kept a clean sheet for 20 minutes, and then the goals came like apples from the tree,” Mongolia head coach Michael Weiss reflected. “Still, it needs to be continued, and for us to play on this level in this stadium will never be forgotten in our lives.
“(Mongolia) has good potential, now we must start to play football.”
Maya Yoshida made it 2-0 in the 29th minute with his own header off a rebound, and from then it appeared as though the dam had broken.
Three minutes later the other senior defender of the squad, Galatasaray’s Nagatomo, was all alone at the near post after a one-two combination between Ito and Minamino brought Mongolian goalkeeper Batsaikhan Ariunbold far off his line.
FC Tokyo striker Kensuke Nagai made it 4-0, heading in yet another cross from Ito on the far side for his third international goal and first in competition.
Mongolia enjoyed the respite of halftime, but regular service resumed nearly 11 minutes into the second half, as Wataru Endo headed home off a corner kick.
The Samurai Blue struggled to find a sixth until the 82nd minute when Endo’s shot was blocked by Ariunbold but headed in by substitute Daichi Kamata for his first senior goal.
Weiss, who emphasized the team’s goal of reaching the final group stage of qualifying for the Asian Cup, suggested that his players could have played with more aggression.
“We had a bit too much respect (for Japan) at times. I told them, these are normal players. You must be aggressive against these players,” Weiss said. “Still, it was fantastic to see. (Players) who play in Marseille or Genk, for us it was a fantastic lesson to study. We will draw the right conclusions and we will improve with this experience.”