ABU DHABI: Japan were forced to come from behind and survive a late Turkmenistan rally before sealing a 3-2 win over their Central Asian opponents to begin their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Group F campaign with a vital, albeit narrow, victory.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time, Yuya Osaka’s brace and a goal from Ritsu Doan proved the difference in a game which had seen four-time champions Japan trailing at half-time before a spirited revival ensured all three points for Hajime Moriyasu’s charges.
The result took Japan to the top of Group F in which Uzbekistan later beat Oman 2-1.
The day’s other game saw 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar defeat Lebanon 2-0.
In hot conditions at Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan Stadium, Japan started brightly although resolute Turkmenistan defending forced the Samurai Blue to wait until the 12th minute for their first genuine opportunity, Doan failing to beat Mamed Orazmuhamedov with a close-range header following a pinpoint Takehiro Tomiyasu pass.
Turkmenistan responded well however, as Vahyt Orazsakhedov forced the onrushing Shuichi Gonda into a fine smothering save, and Mekan Saparov inexplicably headed over from the resulting corner.
Having gained a foothold in the game, Turkmenistan continued to press, and, somewhat against the run of play, they took the lead on 27 minutes when captain Arslanmurat Amanov unleashed a powerful long-range effort which flew into the net giving Gonda little or no chance.
A lively Osako then saw a lashed effort fizz narrowly wide, before Orazmuhamedov denied Tomiyasu with a fingertip save.
As half-time approached, a clearly emboldened Turkmenistan came close to doubling their advantage, this time Ahmet Atayev stinging an alert Gonda’s palms with a rasping angled drive.
Little seemed to have changed immediately after the break, as Japan huffed and puffed but failed to break through a determined Turkmenistan defence in which Ylyasov Vezirgeldi was excelling.
A flicked Genki Haraguchi header which sailed inches wide of the target, did, however, hint that a Japanese equaliser was in the offing, and it duly came in the 56th minute, Osako turning neatly in the area and firing home with aplomb.
Four minutes later Japan took the lead when Mekan Saparov’s blunder allowed Yuto Nagatomo to find Werder Bremen ace Osaka who easily converted to bag his second of the match.
With Turkmenistan tiring, two became three for Japan shortly after, Takumi Minamino finding Doan who spun away from his marker and fired into the bottom corner beyond Orazmuhamedov’s despairing dive.
To their credit, Turkmenistan refused to buckle and they handed themselves a potential lifeline on 79 minutes when Atayev converted from the spot after Gonda had upended substitute Altymyrat Annadurdyyev in the area.
It was not be though for Yazguly Hojageldiyev’s side, as Japan held firm to edge themselves over the winning line and leave Turkmenistan to reflect on what could have been.
Japan, who have only failed to progress from the group stage once since making their AFC Asian Cup debut in 1988, are now scheduled to play Oman in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, with Turkmenistan playing Uzbekistan in Dubai on the same day.