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Phnom Penh: Japan edged ever closer to a place at next year’s AFC U-23 Championship on Friday with a narrow 2-0 win over Cambodia which saw the East Asians go top of Group J. 

Cambodia had custodian Um Sereirath to thank as he kept out efforts from Tagawa Kyosuke, Yuya Nakasaka and Ito Hiroki in a frenetic first half which surprisingly ended goalless despite Japan’s intense pressure.

With an hour gone of what was proving to be an absorbing content, the Japanese had registered 11 shots on target compared to Cambodia’s solitary effort, their patience was, however to be rewarded in the 73rd minute when Keita Endo finally broke the deadlock from Mizuki Ichimaru’s right wing cross.

Substitute Ren Komatsu duly grabbed his fifth goal in two matches when he converted Endo’s pass to sooth furrowed Japanese brows and secure a vital win for the competition’s reigning champions who are set to play second-placed China in their final group game on Sunday.

Japan coach Atsushi Uchimaya
"Before the match I predicted that this would be a difficult game. Cambodia made it difficult. They are a strong team. In the second half, like the first, we had many opportunities and fortunately we were able to score a couple."

Cambodia coach Leonardo Vitorino
"We had a different strategy for today. We know that the Japanese like to attack and so for 70 or 72 minutes we kept the score at 0-0. But eventually we felt the power of the Japanese team. We have to progress but we can not look back as we have an important match on Sunday against the Philippines coming up."

China rebounded from their opening day disappointment to record a 2-0 win over the Philippines on Friday in Group J of the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers.

After drawing 0-0 with Cambodia on Wednesday, the victory takes China - who have already qualified for next year’s continental event as hosts - to second in the group with one game to play. They are two points behind Japan who beat the Cambodians 2-0 later in the day, while the Philippines are anchored to the foot of the table following their second successive defeat.

China captain He Chao opened the scoring in the 15th minute when, from a Tang Shi free-kick, he was allowed far too much time and space by Filipino defenders Jordan Jarvis and Jeremiah Rocha before bundling the ball home to register China's first goal of the qualifiers.

With the Philippines rarely troubling China goalkeeper Zhou Yuchen, who was a spectator for large swathes of the match, Zhang Xiuwei duly doubled the Chinese lead, the substitute latching onto a pinpoint Tang pass and firing home an unstoppable shot to effectively end the game as a contest.

China will now face Japan in a decidedly intriguing encounter on Sunday, while the Philippines are set to play Cambodia on the same day.

China coach Massimiliano Maddaloni
"I am happy with the win today. It was not going to be easy because in their last match the Philippines lost 8-0 to Japan and of course they didn't want a repeat of that, so this match they played with a lot of heart and desire. My players played well and created a lot of chances and shots on goal. Maybe two goals is a little less than expected but I am happy with my team."

Philippines coach Marlon Maro
"My team were able to play more forward passes today so I think the result, despite the loss, is a positive one. We always prepare our team to play 100% in all our games.”

Photos: Football Federation of Cambodia