Soccer

Japan defeats Kyrgyzstan to stay unbeaten in World Cup qualifying

Kyodo

Takumi Minamino converted a first-half penalty and Genki Haraguchi doubled the lead with a free kick after the break as Japan overcame a determined Kyrgyzstan 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.

With the victory at a chilly Dolen Omurzakov Stadium, Group F leader Japan maintained its perfect winning record in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

Playing in the new “Clear Sky Japan” kit for the first time, Hajime Moriyasu’s men had their hands full early against a Kyrgyzstan side eager to quickly push forward on the counterattack.

The 94th-ranked hosts were determined to capitalize on their limited time in possession and looked undaunted against a side 66 places above them in the FIFA standings.

Japan had a reprieve in the ninth minute when a Kyrgyzstan counterattack culminated in midfielder Gulzhigit Alykulov scuffing his shot from directly in front.

The visitors missed an early chance when Hiroki Sakai floated a cross from the right to an unmarked Minamino in the middle of the area, but the Salzburg winger sent his header wide.

Kyrgyz goalkeeper Kutman Kadyrbekov denied Minamino in the 18th minute, pushing his close-range shot out for a corner after the Japanese attacker looked set to score one-on-one.

Japan ‘keeper Shuichi Gonda kept his team on level footing in the 32nd minute, blocking a shot from midfielder Bekzhan Sagynbaev directly in front after Alykulov crossed following a run behind the defense.

Minamino coolly converted the 41st-minute spot kick, slotting in the top right corner as he sent Kadyrbekov in the wrong direction.

The 24-year-old attacker won the penalty after Kadyrbekov brought him down inside the area as they raced to a through ball from Wataru Endo.

The goal extended Minamino’s scoring run to five consecutive internationals, coming on the heels of his brace in Japan’s 3-0 win over Tajikistan on Oct. 15.

Following a foul just outside the arc, Haraguchi stepped up and made it 2-0 with an impressive free kick in the 54th minute.

The Hannover midfielder sent his shot through the gap in the wall and past a diving Kadyrbekov into the bottom left corner.

With the vocal home crowd behind them, the White Falcons continued to push aggressively on the counter, and defender Viktor Maier forced another fine save from Gonda midway through the half.

Japan has yet to concede in qualifying as it tries to make good on Moriyasu’s stated goal of winning all of its Group F games.

The second round of Asian qualifying ends next June, after which each group’s top two teams will advance to the third round. Group winners also qualify for the Asian Cup.