Minamino brace leads Japan to Asian Cup opening win over Vietnam

Minamino brace leads Japan to Asian Cup opening win over Vietnam

Japan kicked off their 2023 AFC Asian Cup campaign with a full three points as they defeated Vietnam, 4-2.

Takumi Minamino, the Cerezo Osaka product who has been starring in Europe for nearly a decade, led the way with two goals.

Two more were added to seal the Samurai Blue victory by Keito Nakamura, the former Gamba Osaka man, and Ayase Ueda, the one-time pride of Kashima Antlers.

Minamino got the scoring started early as Yukinari Sugawara’s shot from a corner kick was saved. The rebound fell right into the path of Minamino, who slotted the ball home through traffic and the Samurai Blue were on the scoreboard after just 11 minutes.

Vietnam hit back quickly, also on a corner kick. A low cross was headed miraculously by Nguyen Dinh Bac at the near post, lofting it well into the air and coming down just under the crossbar and inside the far post for the equalizer.

Set pieces then cost Japan again. This time a free kick was headed back across goal, where Zion Suzuki was unable to claim it and Pham Tuan Hai knocked the ball in to put Vietnam in front.

After falling behind, the Samurai Blue turned it on and wrestled back control of the match. It finally paid off in the 45th minute when a long move put the ball on Wataru Endo’s foot. The Shonan Bellmare and Urawa Reds product now starring at Liverpool played a through ball to Minamino, who finished perfectly into the bottom corner to bring the match level.

The Samurai Blue nearly scored two minutes later, only to be denied by a good save, but they kept the pressure on and found the go-ahead goal moments before halftime thanks to a bit of magic from Nakamura. He took the ball in transition and despite having a defender marking him tightly, cut in and ripped a shot from 20 yards that pierced the top corner of the goal for a remarkable tally.

The second half was all Japan and they easily could have scored several more goals, but Filip Nguyen made some fine saves, the Vietnam defenders got in for some excellent late blocks, and some bad luck kept the Samurai Blue at bay.

Finally, Japan found the back of the net one more time in the 85th minute after yet another long spell of possession got the ball to Ueda’s foot inside the box. He deftly avoided one defender, put the ball on his right foot and fired it into the back of the net to put a bow on top of the Samurai Blue victory.

The win marked Japan’s 11th in a row, continuing a fabulous run of form that has made them one of the favorites to win the Asian Cup. With three points firmly in their pocket, they are off on the right foot as they chase continental glory for a record fifth time.

Japan will next be in action on January 19 when they take on Iraq.