Young stars step up for Japan in 2-0 win over Australia
SAITAMA, Japan (AP) The future looks bright for Japan's national soccer team.
Two of the country's youngest players scored Thursday as Japan secured a sixth straight World Cup berth by beating Australia 2-0.
''We may be young, but it's clear we need to step up now,'' said Takuma Asano, who scored the first goal. ''The coach has shown a lot of confidence in us and we need to live up to the expectations.''
Asano, a 22-year-old forward who plays for German club Stuttgart, has won the confidence of Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic with his sleek play and scored in the 41st minute.
Yusuke Ideguchi, who is only 21, added the second in the 83rd with his first goal for the national team.
Ideguchi, who beat several Australia defenders before sending a right-foot shot to the top corner, was Japan's most impressive player.
''The coach decided to play me on this big stage and so I came into the match determined to deliver results and that led to the goal,'' the Gamba Osaka midfielder said. ''There is still a long way to go until next year's World Cup so I want to continue to improve so that I keep getting picked.''
Halilhodzic hasn't given up on his veteran players, but it's clear he is moving in a new direction as Japan looks to improve on past World Cup performances.
Keisuke Honda remained on the bench for Thursday's match while Leicester forward Shinji Okazaki came on late with the result secure.
Before Thursday, Japan had never beaten Australia in World Cup qualifying, losing twice and drawing five times.