Japan defeats China in FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Japan's forward Yuya Osako (C) celebrates his opening goal during the 2022 Qatar football World Cup Asian Qualifiers match between China and Japan, at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha, on September 7, 2021.

Yuya Osako's first-half goal helped Japan beat China 1-0 in the final round of the FIFA World Cup Asian Zone qualifiers here on Tuesday.

China came into the game on the back of a 3-0 defeat to Australia, while Japan was stunned by Oman 1-0 in its opener of the final qualifying round. Both teams were eager to get their qualification campaign back on track.

Facing Japan, the highest FIFA ranked team in Asia, Chinese head coach Li Tie fielded five defenders in the starting line-up. But they suffered an early setback as veteran center back Zhang Linpeng had to be stretched out just five minutes into play due to a waist injury and Zhu Chenjie filled his place.

"Zhang was injured by accident. His injury seems very severe and he will go through PCR test tomorrow," Li said in the post-match press conference. "We had a preliminary plan when Zhang couldn't play, the young defender Zhu played a very good match and executed our tactics well."


Japan controlled the first half with 78 percent ball possession and 14 shots. 20-year-old forward Kubo Takefusa penetrated into the penalty area in the 22nd minute, but his close-range shot was denied by the post.

The "Samurai Blue" broke the deadlock in the 40th minute, when Junya Ito raced down the right flank and found Osako inside the box, who tapped in the ball to put his side 1-0 ahead.

After the restart, China managed to keep Japan at bay but was unable to level the score despite sending strikers Alan and Luo Guofu on the pitch in a bid to strengthen counter-attack.

"I am very grateful for the efforts of my players. We saw the gap between us and the best team in Asia through the game. I am satisfied with the fighting spirits of my players," Li noted. "All my players have equal opportunities, I only select the starting lineup on the basis of the game plan and requirements. No matter starters or substitutes, they all fought hard."

The Japanese head coach Hajime Moriyasu said that he is happy to see his team back on track. "We worked very hard. I can see the fitness conditions are much better than the first match."

"Our aggressive style of football forced China to play in defence, it was not the way Chinese play. I knew that the Chinese will raise their intensity in the second half, they put more players in the front line as well. We managed it well and we didn't concede a goal," Moriyasu added.

China was drawn into Group B of the final round with Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Vietnam. The top two will qualify for Qatar 2022 directly. The third finisher will play a home-and-away playoff with its counterpart in Group A, and the winner will go into a continental playoff.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Australia beat Vietnam 1-0 to top the group, while Saudi Arabia also claimed a 1-0 victory against Oman.

China will next play Vietnam on October 7 in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates. The Chinese team will depart for Sharjah on Wednesday.

"We will definitely train very hard and I hope all my players' fitness could improve to a higher level after one month of training," Li said.

"I hope we have chances to play friendly matches against teams who are better than us. Before the final round of the qualifying tournament, We couldn't play high-quality games for nearly two years due to the pandemic. Australia and Japan out-competed us with fast tempo, that's what we need to improve on," Li added. 

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