World: Asian Cup
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R. Doan (31), T. Kubo (49), A. Ueda (64), A. Ueda (72)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Doan sparks Samurai through to AFC quarterfinals

German football's four professionals on international duty with the Japanese national team are through to the quarterfinals of the competition after SC Freiburg attacker Ritsu Doan sparked the Samurai to a 3-1 win over Bahrain. 
SC Freiburg attacker Ritsu Doan proved the spark plug for Hajime Moriyasu's Samurai Blue in Japan's 2023 AFC Asian Cup Round-of-16 encounter with Bahrain on Wednesday afternoon. After the 25-year-old recorded an assist in his first start of the competition against Indonesia last week, Doan scored the opening goal for his country in their first knockout round fixture. Japan went on to best Bahrain 3-1 and advance to the competition's quarterfinals.

Japanese trainer Moriyasu - as usual - employed changes to his match-day squad. Doan retained his place as a vital buttressing support attacker. Of the three other Bundesliga professionals on the Japanese roster - all moved to the bench in the final group-stage fixture - only Gladbach central defender Ko Itakura was able to reclaim his starting place. Bochum attacker Takuma Asano and Stuttgart defender Hiroki Ito remained out of the lineup.

The dominant Japanese weren't able to open the scoring against their Gulf State opponents until Doan, with dogged persistence, stuffed home the 1-0 after his initial shot hit the post in the 31st. Doan was involved in the 2-0 four minutes after the restart as well, throwing his marker off on a dribble during a sequence that would ultimately see Takefusa Kubo gifted a deflected clearance played directly onto his feet.

Japan themselves gifted Bahrain a lifeline with a sloppy own-goal in the 64th. Striker Ayase Ueda was the unfortunate actor to get the final touch on a ball that his teammates all failed to clear off the line following a spilt rebound from keeper Zion Suzuki. Ueda nevertheless managed to redeem himself less than ten minutes later with an emphatic finish on the 3-1 in the 72nd.

Doan completed an 80-minute shift, coming off for German footballing colleague Asano as the end of the match approached. Itakura went the full 90. The BMG defender didn't see much of the ball stuffed in way back in a pillow-shaped 4-5-1 designed by Moriyasu to sop up Bahrain's attack. Ito remained unused on the bench throughout.

The four-time continental champions now reach the quarterfinals for the eighth consecutive tournament. The 2019 team appeared destined to capture the nation's fifth crown, but were upset by the upstart Qataris in the Final. The Samurai seek to claim their first confederation title since 2011. They also took the trophy in 1992, 2000, 2004

With the exception of the loss to Iraq in round two, Moriyasu's men have looked strong under the stewardship of former VfB Stuttgart captain Wataru Endo. The current Liverpool midfielder again turned in an impressive performance. Endo scored the consolation goal in the Iraqi loss and has logged maximum minutes.

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