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Red-hot Japan down Saudis to move closer to World Cup

Saitama (Japan) (AFP) – In-form Japan took a huge step towards World Cup qualification with a 2-0 home win over group leaders Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino gave the four-time Asian champions the lead midway through the first half, before Junya Ito bagged another shortly after the break in Saitama, north of Tokyo.

The Saudis went into the game four points clear of Japan at the top of Group B, knowing that a win would seal their place in Qatar.

But Japan’s victory instead set up a tense battle for the two automatic qualifying spots with two games remaining, with Australia also still in the hunt.

The Socceroos were in action away to Oman later in the day.

Japan started the qualifying campaign with two losses from their first three games, but have now won five in a row.

Again shrugging off the absence of key defensive pair Maya Yoshida and Takehiro Tomiyasu, the home side started strongly and took the lead in the 31st minute.

Ito burst clear of a Saudi defender down the right to square a low cross that Yuya Osako left for Minamino, and the Liverpool man’s shot looped up off the goalkeeper and in.

Ito then got himself on the scoresheet — his fourth goal in four games — slamming the ball home from the edge of the area in the 50th minute.

Japan are away to Australia in their next match and finish the campaign at home to bottom side Vietnam.

The Saudis travel to China before facing Australia at home.

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