World: Asian Cup
4 - 2
(3 - 2)
T. Minamino (11), T. Minamino (45), K. Nakamura (45), A. Ueda (85)
?. Nguyễn (16), T. Tuấn Hải (33)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Doan, Ito, Itakura, and Endo factor in as Japan take AFC tournament opener

The four Japanese German club players off representing their country at the ongoing Asian continental championship emerged winners on Sunday after Hajime Moriyasu's Samurai Blue defeated Philippe Troussier's Vietnam in a six-goal thriller. 
After an AFC Continental Championship contender with three German club players on its roster got their competition off to a winning start yesterday, the Asian nation with the biggest Bundesliga representation also bagged three points in its tournament opener. Hajime Moriyasu's Japan - in a rematch of a quarterfinal tie in the 2019 - defeated Vietnam in their opening group stage encounter. Three Bundesliga players (Hiroki Ito, Ko Itakura, and Ritsu Doan) played in the victory. Bochum's Takuma "Jaguar" Asano remained on the bench.

Moriyasu started Gladbach's Itakura despite the fact that the BMG professional had struggled with injury lately in central defense. Ito - as he occasionally does for his German club VfB Stuttgart - began the game as the starting left fullback. Moriyasu's men survived an early scare that saw them fall behind their opponents early in the first half. Former Liverpool attacker Takumi Minamino grabbed an early goal, but the Golden Star Warriors struck back in quick succession to earn a 2-1 advantage in the 33rd-minute.

There would be two more goals scored before a wild first half was out. Moriyasu's Samurai themselves found the back of the net in quick succession in first-half injury time. Former Stuttgart skipper Wataru Endo set up Minamino's second goal on the 2-2 equalizer at 45+1. Minamino then played Keito Nakuamura in at 45+1. Nakamura furnished an artistic finish to enable Japan to head into the locker room with a 3-2 lead. Matters calmed down significantly in the second 45.

The Japanese were nevertheless able to score a decisive goal five minutes from time. Freiburg attacker Doan (subbed on just after the hour-mark) completed a nice combo with his Bundesliga colleague in the 85th. Feyenoord striker Ayase Ueda got his foot around the ball at the end of the sequence and slid home the 4-2 with the help of a slight deflection. The four-time Asian champs' quest to attain the knockouts continues with group stage fixtures against Iraq and Indonesia.

Itakura, Ito, and Stuttgart's "legendo" Endo all played the full 90 minutes. Endo was the only German club player to be officially credited with an assist despite the fact that Ito and Doan played such an important role in the fourth goal. Itakura largely appeared fit and wasn't directly at fault on either of Vietnam's goals. The Gladbach man pushed up high frequently and took an active role in Moriyasu's set-piece designs.

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