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The Samurai Blue secured their spot in the next round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup on Friday, with Werder Bremen striker Yuya Osako scoring four goals in a decisive 10-0 win over outmatched Myanmar in Chiba.

The result against FIFA’s 139th-ranked side ensured Japan of a first-place finish in Group F — which also includes Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia — with two games to spare.

“We’ve reached the next round thanks to the players working hard in each match to get results and improve themselves,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “Even after the result was more or less decided we stayed aggressive and kept going for another goal.

With J. League players unavailable due to the match — originally scheduled for March 25 — taking place outside of the international window, Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu relied on an all-Europe-based squad at Fukuda Denshi Arena, which was closed to fans due to coronavirus-related precautions.

The home side needed just eight minutes to take the lead, with Southampton’s Takumi Minamino scoring at the end of a well-timed exchange of passes with Frankfurt midfielder Daichi Kamada.

Despite spirited defending by the visitors, Japan found its second in the 23rd minute when Osako headed defender Yuto Nagatomo’s cross home. Osako scored the team’s third goal from the penalty spot in the 30th minute after right back Hiroki Sakai was pulled down inside the area by a Myanmar defender and poked in another Nagatomo cross in the 36th to complete a hat trick.

“We knew from the beginning that Japan is a different class, so it’s not a surprise,” Myanmar head coach Antoine Hey said of the result. “The situation that we are in, without any match practice for seven months … to face the best team in Asia was really a difficult task for us. But we got over it, it was a heavy defeat, but that’s how it is. That’s what we expected.”

Myanmar’s first international fixture since November 2019 came as the Southeast Asian nation continues to reel from a military coup that deposed its democratically elected government earlier this year.

Many of the country’s top players refused call-ups to the national team and a group of about 60 protesters, a majority of whom were Myanmar citizens living in Japan, greeted the team bus with signs reading “The Myanmar soccer team does not represent its people.”

“We are concentrating on our job, on our team, on our players, we are not taking any political stand or side,” Hey said when asked about the gathering. “We just do what we are here for — playing football as good as we possibly can.”

Minamino — who now holds a Japan record with goals in six straight international games — set up Osako’s fourth goal of the night just four minutes into the second half, then scored his second just ten minutes after Hidemasa Morita had made it 6-0.

“I’m glad to set the record, but the most important thing is getting the win,” Minamino said. “I was able to achieve this record because I contributed to our results.”

Japan reached double digits in a second straight game through Osaka’s fifth goal of the night as well as Kamada’s fourth international goal and Ko Itakura’s first.

The lopsided result failed to match Japan’s previous match at Fukuda Denshi Arena, a 14-0 demolition of Mongolia in late March. The team has recorded a perfect six victories in this group stage, scoring 37 goals and conceding none.

“They may have been games that we were supposed to win, but no matter who our opponents were we needed to play responsibly,” Moriyasu said of the group. “ Today our opponent was Myanmar but we have even bigger objectives in mind.”

In addition to facing Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in Osaka to round out Group F during next month’s international break, the Samurai Blue will also face Jamaica and Serbia in friendlies hosted in Sapporo and Kobe, respectively.

Nearly half of Friday’s squad — including overage defenders Maya Yoshida and Hiroki Sakai as well as midfielder Wataru Endo — will split off to join Japan’s under-24 team, which is scheduled to play Ghana’s U-24 side as well as Jamaica’s senior squad in friendlies ahead of July’s Tokyo Olympics.

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