By Samindra Kunti
January 9 – Four-time Asian champions Japan came back from a first-half deficit to defeat a stubborn Turkmenistan 3-2 and claim their first three points at the 2019 Asian Cup.
The Japanese were sluggish in the opening stanza, playing without energy and creativity despite having the bulk of possession.
In temperatures just hovering below 30 degrees Celsius, underdogs Turkmenistan massed their defense in a conservative 5-4-1 formation with the Japanese tried to deconstruct the green wall in front of them with slow build-up play from the back.
The unmarked Doan Ritsu had a meek header at goal in the 12th minute, but the Japanese were brutally woken from their slumber by a 30m stunner from Turkenistan captain Arslan Amanov in the 27th minute. Even before the goal the Japan had been suspect of poor defending. Mekan Saparov had powered a header from a corner kick over in the 18th minute that he should have scored. On the right, Hiroki Sakai often positioned himself as a winger, even when out of possession, leaving the flank open.
Japan retaliated and Yuya Osako should have scored when the ball fell to him inside the opposing box, but the Werder Bremen striker blasted the ball just wide. Takehiro Tomiyasu had a shot saved by Turkmen goalkeeper Mammet Orazmuhammedov in the 31st minute, but soon after Japan’s tempo dropped again and they reverted to their previous state of lethargic football.
The interval saw an injection of urgency into the Japanese play which broke Turkmenistan’s resistance. Forward Osako equalised with a lovely goal from inside the box, deceiving defender Saparov on the turn to fire home in the 56th minute. At the hour mark confusion between Turkmen goalkeeper Orazmuhammedov and defender Zafar allowed Yuto Nagatomo to pass the ball to an unmarked Osako for a tap in.
Turkmenistan’s stubbornness withered and Ditsu Roan, Japan’s liveliest attacker, extended his team’s lead in the 71th minute, following a fine turn in the left channel and a deflected attempt past Orazmuhammedov. Japan were in full control, but handed Turkmenistan a lifeline in the 79th minute when Gonda fouled Atayev in his box. The Japanese goalkeeper was booked and Atayev converted the spot kick.
The last ten minutes were uncomfortable for the Japanese as a tiring Turkmenistan probed with longer balls, but it wasn’t enough to stop Japan holding on for a crucial opening win. Japan face Oman next while Turkmenistan have a central Asian derby against Turkemenistan.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1553073114labto1553073114ofdlr1553073114owedi1553073114sni@o1553073114fni1553073114