AMMAN: Goalkeeper Amer Sabbah pulled off a heroic late penalty stop yesterday as Jordan stunned Japan 2-1 to reignite their World Cup hopes and foil the Asian champions’ hopes of booking an early ticket to Brazil 2014.
A headed goal on the stroke of halftime and a breakaway effort on the hour-mark put the hosts 2-0 ahead but Japan got one back through Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, and then earned a penalty just a minute later.
However, Sabbah flung himself at Yasuhito Endo’s well-taken spot-kick to earn Jordan the points that take them from bottom to second in Group B — and deny Japan the draw that would have made them the first country to qualify for the World Cup.
At the final round qualifier inside a cacophonic King Abdullah International Stadium, Ahmad Ibrahim flashed an early warning when he rounded Atsuto Uchida and stung Japan ‘keeper Eiji Kawashima’s hands at his near post on the quarter-hour.
At the other end, Ryoichi Maeda beat the offside trap and headed off the crossbar as Japan, the runaway leaders in Group B, pressed with their customary attacking flair, despite the absence of blond talisman Keisuke Honda.
But it was Jordan who took the lead in first half injury time when Khalil Bani Ateyah stole in unmarked and met Amer Deeb’s corner with a header, which crashed past Kawashima.
And Japan’s defense was also found wanting in the 59th minute when Gotoku Sakai lost the ball near the halfway line and Ibrahim cruised past the last defender, drifted central and poked it past the outstretched Kawashima.
Japan threw on tall striker Mike Havenaar and they got their break on 69 minutes when Hiroshi Kiyotake beat the defense with a cute back-heel to Kagawa, who drilled it into the Jordanian net to make it 2-1.
Just a minute later Japan, needing only a draw to qualify for Brazil after Australia were held 2-2 by Oman earlier, appeared odds-on to book their ticket when Atsuto Uchida was brought down in the box by Jordan’s Abdallah Salim.
Despite green laser flashes from the crowd shining on his face, Endo was calmness personified as he struck a solid penalty to Sabbah’s left — but the goalkeeper stretched full-length to make a brilliant stop.
Yasuyuki Konno flashed a shot narrowly wide but Jordan held on for the win, which boosted their World Cup hopes and delayed the progress of Japan, previously unbeaten in the final qualifying round, to next year’s World Cup.
The top two in both groups of five teams qualify automatically, with the two third-placed sides going into a play-off series. Japan leads Group B on 13 points, six ahead of Jordan.
Son Heung-Min’s toe-poke snatched South Korea’s 2-1 win over Qatar as the former World Cup co-hosts edged a bad-tempered qualifier in Seoul and went provisionally top of Asian Group A.
Earlier, Australia were expected to breeze past unheralded Oman in Sydney. But in the event, it took a long-range strike from Brett Holman five minutes from time to spare their blushes and salvage a 2-2 draw.
Despite the scrambled point, Australia’s position looks perilous with three games to go in the final round. Apart from runaway leaders Japan, the other four teams in Group B are separated by just two points. In Group A South Korea’s win put them on 10 points from five games.
The top two in both of the five-team groups go to Brazil, while the third-placed teams head into a play-off series. Uzbekistan beat Lebanon 1-0, dealing a further blow to a team that lost its captain and was hit by a match fixing scandal.
South Korea famously enjoyed a golden-goal win over Italy on their way to the 2002 World Cup semifinals, and there were shades of that tournament when Son’s injury-time strike sparked wild celebrations in Seoul.
The hosts dominated most of the game but they were frustrated by a negative approach from Qatar, the World Cup hosts in 2022, who appeared set on taking a draw.
Lee Keun-Ho finally put the Koreans ahead on the hour-mark when he superbly glanced Park Won-Jae’s cross into the Qatari goal. But Qatar leveled three minutes later when Khalfan Ibrahim buried a low shot past Korean ‘keeper Jung Sung-Ryong.
The game grew testy in the closing stages, with Son sparking a late melee when he appeared to kick out at Hamed Ismaeil following a heavy challenge.
But despite the fraying tempers, Son kept his wits about him and was on hand to nudge the late, late winner over the line when a speculative effort rebounded off the crossbar and landed at his feet.
In Sydney, Oman took a shock lead through an early Abdulaziz Al-Miqbali strike, and the visitors were pinching themselves at 2-0 up on 49 minutes after Australia’s Mile Jedinak turned the ball into his own net.
Three minutes later, the talismanic Tim Cahill dragged Australia back into it when he leaped to nod home a Luke Wilkshire corner, and the veteran forced a flying save from Oman ‘keeper Ali Al-Habsi with a bullet header with 16 minutes left.
However, it was Holman who rescued the desperate Australians when his fierce drive from outside the area beat Al-Habsi in the 85th minute. Cahill nearly stole it deep in injury time with yet another header but was denied by Al-Habsi.
“They didn’t surprise us. We surprised ourselves. We are a lot better than that and we were trying to make the killer ball all the time, we’ve got to play football,” Cahill said.
“They (Oman) are coming here to waste time and ruin the game and overall we’ve got to look at ourselves instead of what they did.”