Japan will go through to the 2019 Asian Cup knockout phase as Group F winners after coming from behind to beat closest challengers Uzbekistan 2-1, Tsukasa Shiotani’s stunning strike sealing the turnaround.
The two teams went into Thursday’s clash level on six points and, although Hector Cuper’s men took the lead with a great goal of their own, Japan rallied and did just about enough to take the spoils and win the group.
All of the drama in the first half came in the last five minutes, as Eldor Shomurodov opened the scoring with a smart finish at the end of a brilliant solo run, only for Yoshinori Muto to level soon after – the Newcastle United forward’s first goal for club or country since netting against Manchester United in October.
The superior quality of Japan’s play was evident at the start of the second period and Shiotani put them ahead emphatically just before the hour, with Uzbekistan were unable to fight back.
Japan just shaded proceedings for the majority of the first half, as the game looked destined to head into the break goalless.
But things came to life in the 40th minute – Shomurodov picking up the ball just inside the Japan half, darting towards the area, cleverly squeezing behind two defenders and prodding into the right side of the net.
Their lead lasted just three minutes, though. Sei Muroya delivered a fine right-wing cross and Muto rose to head in his first goal for Japan since October 2015.
Japan started the second half well, and after seeing a couple of chances go begging, they went ahead in style – Shiotani’s superb 25-yard strike flying into the top-right corner.
That put the game beyond Uzbekistan, who progress as runners-up.
FULL-TIME | Japan 2-1 Uzbekistan
Shiotani’s stunner sends @jfa_samuraiblue top of group F! #AsianCup2019 pic.twitter.com/3jq8HOu4Pb
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) January 17, 2019