Japan’s week of FIFA World Cup qualifying did not start according to plan, with a 1-0 loss to Oman in Suita putting them on the back foot, but they bounced back with a big win over China on Tuesday thanks to Yuya Osako. The Vissel Kobe forward’s 40th-minute goal was the difference in Japan’s 1-0 victory that put them back on track in their quest to qualify for Qatar.
The match, played in Qatar due to COVID-19 restrictions in China, saw the Samurai Blue come out brightly and apply pressure from the start. They nearly scored early on, but hit the post and just missed on other forays forward.
In need of a win after the Oman loss, the pressure on Japan ratcheted up with every passing goalless minute, until Osako delivered the goal they needed. Junya Ito, who starred at Kashiwa Reysol before moving to Gent in Belgium, got free down the right side before delivering a cross that Osako redirected into the back of the net. The Samurai Blue erupted, hugging beyond the touchline in celebration as they notched the goal they needed, and were on their way to victory.
Japan could have won by more goals, outshooting China, 18-3. Shimizu S-Pulse’s Shuichi Gonda got credit for the clean sheet, but he didn’t have to make a save as the defense shut China down. Nagoya Grampus academy product and current Sampdoria centerback Maya Yoshida led the stout Samurai Blue defense in a commanding performance.
The win puts Japan on three points from two matches in the third round of AFC qualifying. They are currently level on points with Oman for third place in Group B, but will be hoping to move up into the all-important top two during the October qualifying window. The top two teams automatically qualify for the World Cup.