Takumi Minamino helped Japan move to within just one win of securing their place at the 2022 World Cup, scoring the opening goal in a crucial 2-0 win against Saudi Arabia.
Tuesday’s contest took place in Saitama, with Minamino making a sixth successive start, and second within the space of five days, for his country in front of a home crowd.
The permutations were clear for Liverpool’s No. 18 and his teammates, win and a place in the World Cup would be just a further three points away next time out against Australia.
Saudi Arabia, leaders of their AFC qualifying group, were the visitors and could secure a World Cup berth with a win of their own, but Minamino had something to say about that in the 31st-minute.
Junya Ito was the creator from the right having outmuscled his opponent to pull the ball back into the box to the on waiting Minamino, who took it around the defender and bundled it into the net.
— Austin Ditlhobolo (@A_B_Ditlhobolo) February 1, 2022
Ito would then add Japan’s second of the game, moments after Minamino had a chance of his own, with a stunning hit just inside the box to create a welcome buffer as Saudi Arabia continued to dominate possession.
After being subject to a less than impressive tackle from behind, Minamino was withdrawn by manager Hajime Moriyasu with 77 minutes on the clock.
The victory moves Japan to within one point of Saudi Arabia at the top with just two qualifying games remaining, the next of which they can decide their fate.
The top two in the group progress and the fixture against Australia on March 24 is the next hurdle to clear, with a victory for Japan to guarantee at least second place and a spot in Qatar.
Before then, Minammino will return to Liverpool after no January move materialised and will face increased competition for a spot after the arrival of Luis Diaz.