Junya Ito has been outstanding for all of Japan’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign and that was the case again on Tuesday as he bagged yet another goal in the Samurai Blue’s 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. The win secures Japan’s place among the top of Group B and on the verge of securing their berth at Qatar 2022.
Ito, who played for Ventforet Kofu and Kashiwa Reysol before moving to Genk in Belgium, played the role of provider in Japan’s first goal. He flew down the right and expertly picked out an onrushing Takumi Minamino. Minamino, a Cerezo Osaka product now at Liverpool, cooly dispatched a defender before finishing to give Japan a 31st minute lead.
Buoyed by a terrific crowd at Saitama Stadium 2002, home of Urawa Reds, Japan pushed on and had several chances to add to their lead. Luck was not on their side so the match remained 1-0 until the 50th minute, when Ito took matters into his own hands.
Cheating a bouncing ball under control, Ito then hit a blistering shot from the top of the box. The Saudi goalkeeper had no chance as the strike rocketed into the top corner, sending the entire Samurai Blue side to their bench for a massive celebration.
Japan easily saw out the win from there, securing all three points as Ito starred yet again. He’s now scored in four straight qualifiers, delivering the lone goal in consecutive 1-0 wins, then drawing a penalty and scoring a goal last week before this one goal, one assist showing to beat Saudi Arabia.
The Samurai Blue now sit just one point back of first place Saudi Arabia in Group B. The top two teams in the group will automatically qualify for the World Cup, with third place advancing to a playoff. Japan have clinched at least a top-three finish, but with a three-point advantage on Australia in third and only two matches to play, they are on the verge of clinching an automatic spot to Qatar heading into March’s qualifiers.