Asian Games adventure over for Saudi Arabia after heartbreaking defeat to Japan

The Young Falcons will fly home on Tuesday after losing 2-1 at the Pakansari Stadium to Japan. (AFP)
Updated 27 August 2018

Asian Games adventure over for Saudi Arabia after heartbreaking defeat to Japan

  • The Young Falcons will fly home on Tuesday after losing 2-1 to Japan at the Pakansari Stadium
  • Defeat follows U-19 heartache against Japan two years ago

WEST JAVA: Two years after losing on penalties to Japan in the final of the Under-19 Asian Championships, Saudi Arabia were vanquished once more by the Blue Samurai, this time in Monday’s Asian Games quarter-final.
The Young Falcons will fly home on Tuesday after losing 2-1 at the Pakansari Stadium, 60km south of Jakarta, after Yuto Iwasaki netted his second goal of the game 17 minutes from time to cancel out Abdullah Al-Yousif’s equalizer.
Five of Al-Shehri’s starting 11 featured in the 2016 final in Bahrain and the result had not been forgotten, with Ayman Al-Khulaif revealing pre-match that he was seeking revenge for the heartbreak. Much like his previous games at this month’s tournament, the Al-Ahli winger was central to the majority of his side’s creativity, drawing free-kicks and making runs to free up striker Haroune Camara.
“The team tried its best,” said Saad Al-Shehri, who refused to speak in English post-match despite having done so after each of his side’s previous victories. “This was a tough game for us, but we will train and try to improve. Reaching the quarter-finals at the Asian Games is a good achievement.”
Camara should have done better early on when faced with two defenders close to goal, but he failed to lift his head and pick out Nasser Al-Omran. He did not make the same mistake twice when, moments later, he played the ball wide to Abdulrahman Ghareeb, who dragged his shot past the far post.
“Our players played very well and with a strong mentality to go to the next round,” said Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu. “It was very important for us to go aggressive at the start and fight our opponent. There was a mismatch, but our players were intelligent enough to deal with that.”
Iwasaki, who had earlier tested Mohammed Al-Yami from a similar position, opened the scoring on the half-hour when Daizen Maeda reacted quickest to a probing ball forward and laid off his teammate, who floated a right-footed curler back across the goalkeeper. Saudi felt aggrieved, thinking their opponents would put the ball out of play to allow medical treatment for Taishi Matsumoto.
Eight minutes later though, Saudi were level. A loose ball rattled around the penalty area before being snatched at and struck toward goal, hitting left-back Al-Yousif and looping up over the defense to land in the back of the net. It was a deserved equalizer and, shortly after the interval, Camara and Ghareeb combined again to work an opening, but once more, the latter fired off target.
“We conceded our goal because of poor defending, but in the second half we attacked more and had chances,” said Al-Shehri. “In the end though, Japan got stronger. We were second best ... it was a tough game.”
Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu made early substitutions to inject more energy into his team and it paid off, with Japan dominating as the game grew on. Reo Hatate sneaked in behind the Saudi defense and knocked the ball past Al-Yami only for it to trickle wide, before the Saudi goalkeeper made an excellent acrobatic save from a Maeda header.
“We knew before the that that KSA have speed and technique and are a strong opponent so it was very important for us to control the risk,” said Kou Itakura, the Japanese captain. “We communicated well to play against them and our forward chased the ball very well, pressuring their defense. We played as a unit to win and were able to deliver the ball forward with success.”
With Abdullah Tarmin suspended, Al-Shehri had shifted the terrier-like Yousef Al-Harbi to right- back, but in the 73rd minute, Maeda was left with too much space on the flank and was able to cut in and pick out Iwasaki, who struck first time to give Japan the lead once more. It felt like a lesson in game-management — Tarmin had needlessly collected his booking while his team led 4-0 against China in the Round of 16.
“We conceded a goal, but our players played well enough to keep the rhythm and ensure we got the result,” said coach Moriyasu, who was not in charge in 2016.
“Two years ago against Saudi Arabia, most of the time we were defending and they created so many chances,” added Itakura, who started both games. “This time we held the ball and avoided too many shots. Saudi were strong before and now are even better, especially No9 [Camara], who offered them strength and speed. But Japan has also developed a lot in these two years.”
As the whistle blew, drawing an end to a memorable campaign for the Young Falcons, Al-Yami and Al-Yousif fell to the ground, inconsolable. Their adventure is over, but there are enough reasons to believe it is also just beginning.


Liverpool face Chelsea test as Manchester clubs enter fray

Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah looked in fine form as he scored a hat trick in their match against Leeds on the opening weekend. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 September 2020

Liverpool face Chelsea test as Manchester clubs enter fray

  • Pep Guardiola has shored up his defense by signing Netherlands international Nathan Ake

LONDON: Liverpool face an early test of their Premier League title defense against Chelsea on Sunday as Manchester City and Manchester United launch their quest to be champions.

Arsenal, Everton and Leicester hope to build on encouraging opening wins while Jose Mourinho needs a morale-boosting victory for Tottenham.
AFP Sport looks at some of the main talking points ahead of the action.
Chelsea’s meeting with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday has added edge after a feisty exchange between the managers over transfer spending.
The London club finished 33 points behind the champions last season but have splashed out around £200 million ($259 million) on new players.
By contrast, Liverpool have been relatively quiet, adding just Greece left-back Kostas Tsimikas so far, with Spain midfielder Thiago Alcantara likely to follow.
Jurgen Klopp pointedly said Liverpool could not spend in the same way as clubs owned by “countries” and “oligarchs” such as City and Chelsea during the coronavirus pandemic.
But Frank Lampard, who also became embroiled in a spat with Liverpool’s bench in July, pointed out the Anfield side had spent big in previous seasons as they built their title-winning side.
Liverpool will be keen to cut out the defensive errors they committed in a 4-3 win against newly promoted Leeds, but Mohamed Salah looked in fine early season form as he scored a hat trick on the opening weekend.
Chelsea were also unconvincing winners against Brighton in their opening match, but Timo Werner, who chose to join the Blues despite interest from Liverpool, did impress in winning a penalty against the Seagulls.
Manchester City are the bookmakers’ favorites to land a third Premier League trophy in four seasons but face a tough opener against Wolves.
City boss Pep Guardiola has shored up his defense by signing Netherlands international Nathan Ake and has added to his rich attacking options, landing Ferran Torres from Valencia.
City scored 102 goals last season as they finished second, but lost nine matches as they surrendered their crown to Liverpool.
Both Manchester clubs are starting a week later than other sides due to their European commitments last season.
Guardiola will be painfully aware that his team must be more consistent this campaign and he cannot afford to let Klopp’s men open up an early lead.
But he will feel nervous as he travels to face Wolves, who beat City twice last season, after a disrupted pre-season.
City duo Aymeric Laporte and Riyad Mahrez tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month, while Phil Foden was sent home by England after breaking coronavirus protocols while on international duty.
The challenge facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of a match against Crystal Palace is how to improve on last season’s third-place finish.
Midfielder Bruno Fernandes was the catalyst as United put together a long unbeaten run, with a front three of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood providing the firepower.
But United have been relatively quiet in the transfer window, so far adding just midfielder Donny van de Beek from Ajax, despite persistent speculation linking them with Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.
“When we signed Bruno Fernandes, we knew we needed that kind of player — now we’ve signed Donny and he’s a type of player I felt we needed in the squad,” said Solskjaer.
Arsenal are buoyant after launching their season with a 3-0 win at newly promoted Fulham and tying down captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for three more years.
Mikel Arteta’s men, who host West Ham on Saturday, finished down in eighth place last season but ended their campaign on a high, winning the FA Cup for a record 14th time.
They followed that up by beating Liverpool on penalties in the season-opening Community Shield before the announcement on Aubameyang this week that fans had craved.
“I want to become an Arsenal legend just like Thierry (Henry), Wrighty (Ian Wright), (Tony) Adams and (Dennis) Bergkamp,” he said.