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Sports

Bundesliga: Japan's Yoshinori Muto banishes Okazaki memories

At the start of matchday 16, it was Mainz's Japanese striker Yoshinori Muto who had the chance to win the Friday night game against Stuttgart. The 23-year-old has had some start to his Bundesliga career.

Mainz 0-0 Stuttgart

Yoshinori Muto missed a pair of excellent chances away at Gladbach on matchday two. They were the kind of chances that are a given for a top-division striker, ones you just expect to be scored. Mainz went on to win the game, but there were some early concerns that perhaps Muto would fall short in replacing fellow countryman Shinji Okazaki, who had left for the Premier League in the summer. Against Stuttgart at the start of matchday 16, Muto missed again and this time, Mainz did not collect the three points. As the first half of the season draws to a close, the Japanese striker's first Bundesliga season is heading in the right direction.

In between those two games, Muto has shown a great deal of quality beyond his 23 years. Seven goals and four assists have left Okazaki a name of the past. In fact, the former FC Tokyo striker has settled into his role much quicker than Okazaki (who only started to shine at the latter stages of his Bundesliga career) and Muto's decision to spurn the Premier League has proven a smart one. He has started every game other than matchday one and his hat-trick in Augsburg was only the second time a Japanese player has scored three in a Bundesliga game. Muto though, wanted more. “It would have been best if I had scored four goals and the team had won, but we were 3-2 down, so it's good that we managed to draw,” Muto said afterwards.

After his brace against Hannover, Mainz head coach Martin Schmidt talked about Muto building a foundation for a sparkling career in Europe. Friday night's hosting of Stuttgart should have been the latest piece of evidence to support that theory, but not even the Japanese striker could sprinkle his magic on a 0-0 draw.

Against the current worst defense in Europe's top five leagues, Muto watched on for most of the first half as his side kept a surprisingly lively Stuttgart at bay. Lorius Karius denied Alexandru Maxim, the offside flag did the same for Timo Werner before the post kept out Lukas Rupp's rasping drive. Mainz had been sloppy in possession and were lucky not to a goal down at the break.

In the second half, momentum, as it does in football, swung the other way and Muto was presented with his chance. A sweeping move from the right wing made its way towards Mainz's number nine. Once in possession, Muto tucked inside the defender and then tried to place the ball past Tyton, but the Polish keeper pulled off the first of his two impressive saves on the night.

Mainz's magic men - Pablo de Blasis, Jairo Samperio and Yunus Malli - could not connect with Muto again. Tyton's superb reflex save denied de Blasis, but then Muto's night was over and soon after, so was the game. After the second half showing, Mainz will feel two points got away from them, but the one they got takes them into sixth overnight. An away trip to the capital is how Mainz will end their 2015 and whether Muto inspires victory there or not, the excitement over the striker's next six months is already growing.

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