In a thrilling match at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday, Japan secured a comeback victory against Vietnam in their Asian Cup Group D opener, winning 4-2. The first half witnessed a total of five goals, with Takumi Minamino scoring twice to propel the top-seeded Japanese team to success.
The former Liverpool forward set the ball rolling with a clinical finish in the 11th minute to give Japan the early lead. But the Southeast Asians, under former Japan coach Philippe Troussier, stunned the Samurai Blue with two goals from well-worked set pieces in the 16th and 33rd minute to take a 2-1 lead at the break.
Troussier, who led the side to Asian Cup glory 24 years ago in Lebanon and took them to the last 16 at home in 2002, was delighted with his team’s performance against a much higher-ranked opponent. But he quickly acknowledged that his squad is still a work in progress, defensively and offensively.
Ayase Ueda’s match-sealing goal in the 86th minute rounded off Japan’s win and made it three points for the tournament favorites. Former Manchester United midfielders Takumi Minamino and Keito Nakamura also scored for the Japanese team, ranked 17th in the world by FIFA.
Japan was sluggish in the second half, but Minamino’s cleverly worked goal in the 53rd minute restored the lead after some superb build-up play involving Liverpool defender Wataru Endo and Monaco forward Minamino. The Monaco star then turned creator to set up Keito Nakamura for the match’s third goal in the 62nd minute, firing a shot from just outside the box that curled into the top corner.
Minamino then added a fourth goal for Japan in the first minute of injury time after being picked out by a beautiful cross from Endo. Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu threw on European-based players, including Ritsu Doan, Takefusa Kubo, and Ayase Ueda, to put the game out of reach for the Vietnamese outfit.
In the final minute of injury time, Nguyen Dinh Bac nearly pulled one back for his side, but his header was ruled offside. But it was too late for the unfortunate Southeast Asians who were beaten by a team ranked four places below them in the world rankings. Japan will now face Qatar and Australia in their remaining group games on Tuesday and Thursday. The Samurai Blue will have to be at their best to overcome the challenges of the two teams. They must be even more clinical than they were against Vietnam to get past this stage.