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J.League stars lead Japan to East Asian championship

J.League stars lead Japan to East Asian championship

Japan are the champions of East Asia after a squad of almost entirely Meiji Yasuda J.League players captured the EAFF E-1 Football Championship.

The Samurai Blue won their tournament opener and drew their second contest, setting up a winner-take-all battle against South Korea for the title.

Led by Hajime Moriyasu, three-time J.League Manager of the Year, Japan were on the front foot right from the start. They dominated the ball and repeatedly challenged the Korean defense, nearly scoring in the 19th minute, but their rampage down the left ended with a shot clattering against the post.

It took until the second half for Japan to break through, but they finally did in the 49th minute through Nagoya Grampus’ Yuki Soma. Yokohama F·Marinos’ Joel Chima Fujita lifted a deft cross to the far post, where an onrushing Soma headed it home to give the Samurai Blue the lead.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Sho Sasaki doubled the Japan advantage on a corner kick, getting free in front of goal and nodding the ball into the back of the net to send the crowd at Toyota Stadium wild.

The Samurai Blue put the match away in the 72nd minute with a spectacular team play. Fujita started the move with a pass into his Marinos teammate Takuma Nishimura, whose first-touch flick played in another Tricolor man, Ryuta Koike. The right back also only needed one touch, crossing it at a full sprint for Shonan Bellmare’s young star Shuto Machino to tap into the open net.

When the final whistle blew, a 26-man team made up of 25 J.League players were champions. It marks just the second time that Japan has won the EAFF E-1 Football Championship and puts a trophy in their hands as they continue their march to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

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