Japan survive scare, Qatar account for Lebanon at Asian Cup

Turkmenistan’s midfielder Ahmet Atayev scores form the penalty spot during the UAE 2019 Asian Cup match against Japan at the Al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Japan won the match 3-2. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019

Japan survive scare, Qatar account for Lebanon at Asian Cup

  • Four-time champions Japan came from behind against Turkmenistan - ranked 127th in the world
  • 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar registered a 2-0 win over Lebanon

AL-AIN, United Arab Emirates: Yuya Osako’s quickfire double spared Japan’s blushes against lowly Turkmenistan at the Asian Cup on Wednesday, as 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar registered a 2-0 win over Lebanon.
Uzbekistan left it late before seeing off Oman 2-1 but it was four-time champions Japan who had the biggest scare as they had to come from behind against a team ranked 127th in the world.
Arslan Amanov’s first-half rocket raised the prospect of a titanic upset by Turkmenistan but Osako’s brace restored order before Ritsu Doan appeared to make the game safe.
However, Ahmet Atayev buried a penalty 11 minutes from time before Japan survived to win 3-2, a further reminder that the big teams have not had it all their own way at this Asian Cup.
“The first match is always a bit special and we expected a battle,” said Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu, who was relieved to get off to a winning start in Group F.
“Obviously we’re happy to get the three points but we have a lot of things to work on for the next game.”
Earlier in the tournament’s opening group games, defending champions Australia were shocked 1-0 by Jordan, South Korea labored to a 1-0 win over the Philippines and China needed an own goal to spark a 2-1 comeback win against Kyrgyzstan.
The Blue Samurai have arguably the best pedigree in the competition after reaching the last 16 of last year’s World Cup, and were not expected to be troubled by Turkmenistan.
But Turkmen captain Amanov put the heavy underdogs ahead after 26 minutes in Abu Dhabi, unleashing a ferocious long-range drive that arrowed into the top corner.
Osako produced a smart turn and finish inside the box to equalize for Japan 10 minutes into the second half after sustained pressure from the former champions.
The Werder Bremen striker put Japan in front four minutes later, tapping into an empty net, and Doan added a deflected third after 70 minutes but Atayev smashed in a penalty nine minutes later to ensure more anxious moments for the Japanese.
In Wednesday’s other Group F fixture, in Sharjah, Eldor Shomurodov was the hero for Uzbekistan as he struck four minutes from time to grab a 2-1 win.
Shanghai SIPG midfielder Odil Ahmedov fired the White Wolves ahead on 34 minutes with a low free kick, before Oman’s Muhsen Al-Ghassani levelled midway through the second half.
But as full time loomed, Shomurodov shrugged off the attentions of two defenders and beat goalkeeper Faiz Al-Rushaidi at his near post to clinch victory.
Near the end of a tepid opening half in Al Ain, Lebanon’s Ali Hamam thought he had scored with the game’s first shot on target — only for his volley to be ruled out for a foul.
The pace quickened in the second period and the breakthrough came on 65 minutes, when Bassam Al-Rawi swept a curling free kick over the wall and past a diving Mehdi Kahlil.
Substitute defender Abdelkarim Hassan, the 2018 Asian player of the year, was causing problems down the left and it was his break that created Qatar’s second when Almoez Ali gobbled up a rebound with 11 minutes on the clock.
It was a welcome win for Qatar, who are desperate for a good showing before their next major tournament — the 2022 World Cup on home soil.

Late winner dumps Syria out of Asian Cup following survival of the fittest battle against Socceroos

Updated 15 January 2019

Late winner dumps Syria out of Asian Cup following survival of the fittest battle against Socceroos

  • Syria boss left to rue side's lack of stamina as Aussie hit last-minute winner.
  • Result dumped Syria out of the tournament.

AL-AIN: Syria were left to lament that they came off second best in a survival of the fittest battle against the Socceroos.  

That was the opinion of the side’s stand-in coach Fajr Ibrahim who felt that there was not much to separate the two sides in terms of ability, but claimed the Aussies were able to win 3-2 due to their superior fitness levels. 

The defeat dumped Syria out of the Asian Cup at the first hurdle, and Ibrahim, who took charge foolowing Bernd Stange's shock  sacking following their defeat by Jordan, was left to rue his players’ lack of stamina compared to their Australian opponents. 

"Fitness was the critical factor," Ibrahim said.

"There wasn't a big difference apart from the fitness of the Australian team. They were superior.”

Considering the league that the majority of the Socceroos play in compared to the Syrians, the coach was probably right when talkng about the fitness levels of the two sides. In which case he had every right to be proud of his players. They only fell to defeat by virtue of a Tom Rogic's injury-time thunderbolt.

The result meant the Socceroos finished second in Group B behind Jordan, whose simultaneous 0-0 draw with Palestine gave the Palestinians hope of qualifying as one of the best third-placed teams.

Syria, vocally backed by thousands of their fans in Ai-Ain, twice fought back from a goal behind before Rogic slammed home the winner in the third minute of injury time.

Injury-hit Australia, with only six outfield players on the bench, needed just a draw to go through and they got there — but there were twists along the way.

“It was a helter-skelter game at times,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said.

“On another night we could've scored more goals but it was a great learning process for our young players. It was a good performance just in terms of the grit and determination.”

Syria looked an early threat before Australia started to get a grip on the game and Hibernian striker Jamie Maclaren flashed a header just wide.

There was drama on the half-hour when a Syrian free-kick bounced through a packed penalty area and into the net, but the goal was ruled out for a foul on Mark Milligan.

But Australia were getting close and Awer Mabil, after seeing one raking shot blocked, unleashed a fabulous effort which curled into the top corner four minutes before half-time.

However, the lead lasted just two minutes as Mouaiad Alajaan's cross picked out birthday boy Omar Khrbin, turning 25 on Tuesday, who saw his header saved by Brighton's Mathew Ryan but then gobbled up the rebound.

On 54 minutes, there was controversy when Chris Ikonomidis's shot was hooked away by Omar Al Midani — but the ball was judged to have crossed the line by the additional assistant referee, who was surrounded by Syrian players.

The incident silenced the massed ranks of Syrian fans but there was uproar around the stadium shortly afterwards when their team vehemently claimed a penalty for a Milligan handball.

Australia looked firmly in control and they could have had a third goal when substitute Apostolos Giannou saw a low shot cannon off the base of the upright.

But Mexican referee Cesar Ramos threw Syria a lifeline when he gave them a penalty after Omar Al Soma went down in the box — and the striker stroked them level once more with 10 minutes to go.

It looked like Syria would escape with a vital point before Celtic's Rogic, playing the tournament with a broken hand, belted Australia's third from distance.