Takumi Minamino scores twice as Japan see off Vietnam at Asian Cup

Samurai Blue survive first-half scare to make successful start to their Group D campaign in Qatar

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Japan overcame an early scare against a spirited Vietnam side to make a winning start to Group D of the 2023 Asian Cup at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Sunday.

Takumi Minamino's first-half brace was followed by a sublime curled effort from the Reims winger Keito Nakamura as the four-time champions took a 3-2 lead into the break. Substitute Ayase Ueda blasted home through a crowded penalty box to make the result safe in the closing stages.

The Samurai Blue were heavily favoured against the Vietnamese but found themselves up against a well-coached side with a gameplan and, in particular, one ready to make the most of any attacking set pieces that came their way.

To that end they scored twice from such situations in an entertaining opening 45 minutes. The problem for Philippe Troussier's side, however, was that Japan scored three goals of their own, largely thanks to their superior individual quality.

The pattern of the game was established early on with Japan dominating the ball and the Vietnamese defending in numbers and looking to play direct into Pham Tuan Hai as a focal point for their own attacking raids – but with 11 minutes on the clock they found themselves behind.

Some unconvincing goalkeeping helped hand Japan the breakthrough as Vietnam's Czech-born custodian Filip Nguyen flapped at a cross and was all over the place as Yukinari Sugawara drilled it back into the danger area and Minamino tucked home the loose ball.

At that point it seemed the Japanese were in for a routine start to their campaign in Qatar, but Vietnam's dead-ball prowess soon helped them draw level.

Do Hung Dung whipped a corner to the near post and the impressive Nguyen Dinh Bac flicked an audacious looping header over everyone and just inside the far post.

The Vietnamese grew in confidence and an early ball forward sent Nguyen streaking away from the Japanese defence. A free-kick 30 yards out seemed scant reward after Sugawara chopped down the Vietnam forward, but the underdogs had another crack routine ready to deploy.

This time, Do Hung Dung swept the ball to the far post where Bui Hoang Viet Anh headed back across the face of goal for Pham to tuck home.

Having hit the front, Troussier's side closed ranks as the interval loomed, but two flashes of individual class saw their lead quickly transformed into a deficit.

First, the Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo slipped in Minamino to coolly pass his second into the far corner, before Nakamura wriggled free of Pham Xuan Manh and curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner.

The Vietnamese were unlucky to find themselves behind and a disciplined Japanese performance in the second 45 ensured they never again looked likely to pull off the tournament's first big upset.

And any hope they had of taking at least a point was wiped out as the Feyenoord striker Ueda fired home with the help of a deflection.

Indonesia and Iraq, the other two teams in Group D, face off in Doha on Monday.

Updated: January 14, 2024, 8:00 PM