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
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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.


Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

Updated 38 min 39 sec ago
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Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

LONDON: The post-mortem on Los Angeles’ Lakers season has begun after the storied franchise missed out on the NBA playoffs for a sixth consecutive year this weekend.
It was not meant to be like this, especially after the signing of LeBron James — the man who single-handedly dragged his hometown team Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 and was instrumental in Miami Heat’s dominance in the first half of the decade.
James’ mercurial talent was often the difference for those two franchises in clutch situations throughout the season, but for all the fanfare on his arrival at the Staples Center last summer, the “James Effect” has failed to materialize in California.
He has often called his own superhuman efforts in the run up to — and during — the postseason the “Playoff Mode,” but even the genius of James was not enough to put his new franchise into the picture.
It did not help that as soon as it became clear they were not going to be appear beyond April 10, made all the clearer by a recent humbling defeat to the league’s worst team (New York Knicks), James has been benched more and more by the management.
And it speaks volumes about the problems at the Lakers that it will be the first playoffs without James featuring since 2005. Not only had he played in the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, he had also played in eight straight NBA finals.
Granted, James — a three-time NBA champion and four-time league Most Valuable Player — was adamant back in September that the task of rebuilding the Lakers, who had missed the playoffs for five straight seasons would be a long-term project.
“Obviously, I would love for the team to be in the post-season,” James said as soon as it became clear he and the team would miss out on the playoff party.
“But right now, it’s not the hand I was dealt, so you play the hand that you were dealt until the dealer shuffles the cards and you’re dealt another hand and can do that.”
So what has gone so terribly wrong with the Lakers this year?
A big factor was injuries, not only to James but to other key players, throughout the season.
Everything looked rosy for the Lakers toward the end of December when they thrashed reigning champions Golden State Warriors, but a groin injury to James was a sign of the bad run to come. In his 17-game absence, the Lakers won just six games.
Then Lonzo Ball sprained an ankle in January, leaving the Lakers defense very vulnerable while Brandon Ingram, who had been influential in the team reaching the dizzying heights of fourth place in the Western Conference, was ruled out for the rest of the season due to a blood clot in his arm. Those certainly were damaging injuries.
The Lakers, also, have built too much of the team and its tactics around James. They have a good core of young talent in Ball, Ingram and Kyle Kuzuma, but management has not utilized them nearly well enough. Instead, for the first half of the season definitely, there was too much focus put on James and he was expected to win games almost by himself. Even the greatest player of a generation needs help from time to time.
The boardroom has to take some responsibility, too. Letting players like Brook Lopez (having a remarkable season with this year’s huge surprise package the Milwaukee Bucks), Julius Randle who averages 20 points per game at New Orleans and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell (picked as an All-Star this year) leave was a major mistake on the Lakers’ part.
There will need to be a big rethink in the off-season at the Lakers, but with James admitting a break from the high-pressure playoffs will give him time to “recalibrate body and mind,” you cannot rule out “King James” coming back better and stronger than ever to claim a fourth NBA title and bring back the good times to LA.