• Soccer

Japan Forced by Vietnam to Rally in Opener

AP
Takumi Minamino, right, celebrates after scoring the opening goal in Japan’s Asian Cup Group D match against Vietnam in Doha on Sunday.

DOHA (AFP-Jiji) — Asian Cup favorite Japan survived a scare in its tournament opener on Sunday against Vietnam before winning 4-2 in a roller-coaster clash.

Hajime Moriyasu’s side is looking for a record-extending fifth Asian title and looked set for a comfortable start to its campaign in Qatar when Takumi Minamino provided an 11th-minute lead.

But Vietnam, which is coached by Japan’s 2000 Asian Cup-winning boss Philippe Troussier, turned the game on its head with two goals midway through the first half.

Japan came roaring back before halftime, Minamino scoring a second before Keito Nakamura curled home a sublime effort to send them into the break with the lead. The second half was a far more sedate affair until Japan substitute Ayase Ueda made the win safe with a fourth goal in the 86th minute.

Japan is hotly tipped to lift the trophy but Minamino said its opponents will not make it easy over the next month.

“I’ve been playing against Vietnam since I was young so I know how good a team they can be,” said the 28-year-old, now at Monaco. “But it wasn’t just in defense — they were really good in attack as well. I was surprised by how good they were.”

Moriyasu said he was confident that his players would find a response.

“They stayed calm despite going behind because they knew we had the whole 90 minutes and injury time to get the win,” he said. “They never let their concentration drop.”

Japan and Vietnam met in the quarterfinals of the last Asian Cup in 2019, with Japan winning 1-0 before losing to Qatar in the final.

Troussier led Japan to Asian Cup glory 24 years ago in Lebanon and also took the side to the last 16 of the World Cup on home soil in 2002.

The Frenchman said that there was no disgrace in Vietnam losing to Japan.

“When you see where the Japanese players are coming from, when you see their experience, when you see their bodies, it’s clear that we are not boxing at the same level,” he said. “But with our means and our potential we tried our best, that’s why I am so satisfied.”

Moriyasu left Kaoru Mitoma out of his matchday squad as the Brighton winger continues his comeback from an ankle injury.

Real Sociedad forward Takefusa Kubo started on the bench but Minamino showed that Japan still had plenty of attacking talent when he opened the scoring early in the first half.

Yukinari Sugawara drilled a ball into the box that deflected off a Vietnam defender, and former Liverpool attacker Minamino pounced on the rebound.

Vietnam hit back four minutes later when Nguyen Dinh Bac glanced a looping backwards header over a stunned Japanese defense from a corner.

And more was to come when Vietnam took the lead in the 33rd minute.

Defender Bui Hoang Viet Anh got his head onto a free kick swung into the far post and Japan goalkeeper Zion Suzuki could only parry his effort into the path of an onrushing Pham Tuan Hai, who stuffed the ball home.

There was still time for Japan to turn it around before the break.

First, Liverpool’s Wataru Endo picked out Minamino in the box and the Monaco forward rolled a precise first-time shot just inside the far post.

Then Nakamura put Japan back in front with a jaw-dropping strike from the edge of the box in first-half injury time.

In the second half, Ueda notched Japan’s fourth with a well-taken strike with just minutes remaining.