Ritsu Doan, Takefusa Kubo and Ayase Ueda were all on the mark as Japan defeated Bahrain, 3-1, in the Round of 16 of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup to book their spot in the final eight.
It was a terrific performance by Japan, who were on the front foot right from the start. They were clearly the better side and nearly scored inside 10 minutes when Kashima Antlers product Ueda had a powerful header pushed over the bar.
The Samurai Blue finally got their goal in the 31st minute when Cerezo Osaka’s Seiya Maikuma hit an absolute blast from 25 yards that beat the Bahrain goalkeeper. The shot could only clatter off the post, but Doan, an academy product from across town at Gamba Osaka, was there to knock the rebound in and give Japan a well-deserved lead.
Kubo, the former FC Tokyo man, doubled the Japan lead shortly after halftime with a bit of help from Bahrain and VAR. Kubo scored from an offside position and the referee did not allow the goal, but after consulting VAR it was ruled that Kubo was played in on goal by a Bahrain defender’s touch of the ball. Kubo’s offside position was immaterial and Japan were awarded the goal.
Things got a bit shaky in the 64th minute when a goalkeeping error saw Bahrain pull a goal back, but the Samurai Blue responded well.
Eight minutes later, Maikuma and Ueda restored Japan’s lead as the right back danced between defenders before feeding Ueda, who faked a through-ball before taking off. He split two defenders, raced in on goal and blasted it between the goalkeeper’s legs for a magnificent goal that assured the Samurai Blue’s place in the quarter-finals.
Japan have made the final eight at every AFC Asian Cup since 1992, when the J.League was founded. This Samurai Blue side, composed entirely of J.League stars present and past, have kept up the legacy and now they are just three wins away from a record fifth Asian crown.
The Samurai Blue will now take on Iran in the quarter-finals. It marks a rematch of the 2019 Asian Cup semi-finals, when Japan defeated Team Melli, 3-0.