Shoya Nakajima's and Takumi Minamino's first-half goals led Japan to a 2-0 win away over Myanmar on Tuesday as the Samurai Blue opened their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a victory.
Japan picked apart the Myanmar defense early and often, slowed nearly as much by Thuwanna YTC Stadium's soggy pitch as they were by their opponents in the first half. The second half of the Preliminary Round 2 Group H clash, however, was a different story as the hosts found new energy and confidence.
"We failed to add that extra goal that would ensure a win," head coach Hajime Moriyasu said. "And that's something we have to address moving forward. World Cup qualifying is a long hard road, but we can only deal with one game at a time, be prepared and ready to compete at our highest level."
Nakajima, who plays for Portuguese powerhouse Porto, opened the scoring in the 16th minute. The midfielder launched a rocket from outside the left corner of the area that sailed over keeper Kyaw Zin Phyo and just under the bar.
"I've been practicing my shooting," Nakajima said. "When I hit it from there they seem to go in."
"Myanmar fought really hard, and that we could score just twice reflects our current ability. We need to recognize that and concentrate going forward," he added.
A few minutes after Nakajima's shot, Kyaw made a super save on a hard headed shot from Bologna defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, but the keeper was unable get to Minamino's 26th-minute header. A diagonal cross from PSV Eindhoven's Ritsu Doan inside the left corner of the area found Minamino at the far post, and the Red Bull Salzburg marksman directed it in.
"Ritsu had been providing a lot of good crosses from the start, and this was another," Minamino said. "So I was trying to create some space. He timed it just right, and I was able to put it into the goal."
Kyaw made a good block on a smash from Southampton defender and Japan captain Maya Yoshida to prevent Japan from widening their lead further after half an hour.
The hosts' defense was much tougher after the break and Myanmar even forced a good 54th-minute save from Japan's Portimonense keeper Shuichi Gonda, who'd had a very quiet first half.
"We achieved our first objective, which was to get three points," Yoshida said. "But we did not play that well in the second half. This is a continuation of what happened in our last game against Paraguay. Having said that, I think this was a win for the team staff as much as the players."