World: Asian Cup
2 - 1
(2 - 0)
A. Hussein (5), A. Hussein (45)
W. Endo (90)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Amyn's Iraq stun Asano and Japan in second AFC group stage fixture

With three Bundesliga professionals in the starting XI, Japan have suffered a surprise upset loss to the Iraqi "Lions of Mesopotamia" in their second group stage fixture of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. 

Eintracht Braunschweig winger Youssef Amyn was among the players featuring in the XI of Iraqi trainer Jesus Casas as the Iraqis snatched a 2-0 half-time lead and didn't concede until deep into second-half injury time. 
Japan's Samurai Blue suffered a set-back in their second group stage fixture of the 2023 AFC Asian continent championship. Surprise 2007 tournament winners Iraq supplied one of the major surprises of the tournament thus far, upsetting the team beat them in the 2015 competition group phase with a 2-1 win at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan. The Iraqis are now officially through to the round-of-16 while Japan will have to wait until the final match-day to secure passage.

Japanese trainer Moriyasu made two personnels change to the side that defeated Vietnam in the opening group stage fixture. As it turned out, one switch involved a Bundesliga players representing his country. VfL Bochum's Takuma "Jaguar" Asano started ahead of previous lead striker Mao Hosoya. The remaining German footballing representatives all began in their previous positions. Stuttgart's Hiroki Ito stared at left-back alongside Gladbach's Ko Itakura in central defense. Freiburg's Ritsu Doan began on the bench. Former Stuttgart maestro Wataru Endo led the Samurai from midfield.

Iraqi trainer Jesus Casas also made a change involving a German football representative partaking in the tournament. Eintracht Braunschweig winger Youssef Amyn - who played only negligible minutes as a substitute after the opening win against Indonesia had been decided - slid into the starting XI on the right wing. The Essen native and former VfL Bochum academy man earned his sixth senior cap for the country he switched to last spring.

The "Lions of Mesopotamia" grabbed an early lead when Iraqi winger Ali Jassim crossed in for striker Aymen Hussein in the box in the 5th. The Japanese remained unsorted so soon after kickoff and no one picked up the unmarked center forward. To their immense credit, Moriyasu's men did wrest control of the match back fairly quickly and appeared set to score an equalizer before the first half was out. Asano got two efforts off.

Samurai dominance nevertheless counted for naught as, against the run-of-play, Hussein was able to complete a scorer's brace at 45+4. This time, Iraqi full back Ahmed Yahya supplied the assist. Just as was the case on the opening goal, Japanese marking in the box was poor. Ito lost a direct aerial duel against Hussein on the 2-0. Japanese center back Shogo Taniguchi earned the yank at the half after his poor performance.

Asano - who was also fouled several times in the first half - thought he had drawn a penalty for his side in the 57th, but the spot-kick was withdrawn after review. Asano made his exit from the match in the 61st as Doan entered. Amyn would be subbed off five minutes later. Doan - precisely as was the case in the previous fixture - factored in almost immediately.

Unfortunately for the Freiburg man, Doan scuffed his first major scoring chance with an effort over the bar in the 67th. Doan's teammates would miss a few more solid opportunities during a sustained Japanese assault near the end. Endo headed home a corner at 90+3 to pull a goal back, but the 1-2 came far too late for the Samurai to chase an equalizer.

Ito and Itakura supplied a performance full of question marks. The entire team had problems defending and executing set-piece designs. While Endo eventually did score off a corner, the first eleven plays from the flag yielded absolutely noting of note. Asano's shift ended up looking fairly mediocre. Doan may have made a case for the XI with his second strong stint in relief.

The Iraqi Lions now sit atop of their group having taken maximum points from their first two fixtures. The nation can now boast of having made the knockouts in eight consecutive AFC championships. Their tournaments have nevertheless ended in the first knockout round in all but two cases; their 2007 championship and the 2015 run to the semi-finals.

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