WORLD CUP 2022
Minamino and Ito on target for Japan in win over Saudi Arabia
Takumi Minamino and Junya Ito supplied the goals as Japan eased to a 2-0 win in Saitama to move to within a point of Herve Renard's side at the top of Group B.
Takumi Minamino and Junya Ito were on target as Japan handed Saudi Arabia a 2-0 defeat at Saitama Stadium to move to within a point of Hervé Renard's side at the top of Group B of Asia's World Cup preliminaries on Tuesday.
Japan pile pressure on Saudi Arabia
Hajime Moriyasu's men emerged with the three points from the battle between the leading pair as the fight for Group B's automatic qualifying berth intensifies. Asia has four guaranteed places in Qatar 2022, with the first two finishers in each of the two qualifying groups advancing. The third place finishers in each group will playoff for the right to face South American opposition from the CONCACAF qualifiers in an intercontinental playoff.
The Japanese adopted a defensive approach against a Saudi side that has dominated the group and who would have secured their place at the World Cup with a win over the Samurai Blue. Japan's counter-attacking abilities proved the difference between the teams in the first 45 minutes, with the pace of Ito a major problem for the Saudis.
The Genk winger had threatened in the 29th minute when his shot was saved by Mohammed Al Owais after sprinting behind the back line and, three minutes later, he used his speed again to great effect. This time the 28-year-old elected to seek out a team mate rather than shoot when he found more space behind the defence, rolling the ball to Minamino, whose attempt was powerful enough to prevent Al Owais from keeping it out.
Five minutes after the restart Ito went from provider to goal scorer with a stunning strike from the edge of the area, leaving Al Owais with no chance as the ball flew into the top corner.
Iran's World Cup ticket booked
The defeat was Saudi Arabia's first of the third phase of Asia's preliminaries and will give hope to third placed Australia, who take on Oman in Muscat later on Tuesday. Iran have already claimed one of Asia's automatic berths at the finals which begin in November. South Korea could seal their place at the tournament if they defeat Syria later on Tuesday.