Saudi fury as Ja­pan boost World Cup hopes

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Ja­pan beat Saudi Ara­bia 2-1 in a foul-tem­pered qual­i­fier yes­ter­day as a de­bat­able Hiroshi Kiy­otake penalty boosted their hopes of qual­i­fy­ing for a sixth suc­ces­sive World Cup in 2018.

The Blue Sa­mu­rai drew level with the Group B lead­ers on 10 points af­ter a tem­pes­tu­ous clash in Saitama, where Kiy­otake’s spot kick and a Genki Haraguchi ef­fort eased the pres­sure on un­der-fire coach Vahid Halil­hodzic.

Saudi Ara­bia pulled a late goal back through Omar Oth­man but it was not enough for the vis­i­tors to res­cue a draw.

“Credit to the play­ers for beat­ing a good Saudi team,” said Halil­hodzic, whose fu­ture has been plunged into doubt af­ter a poor run of form dur­ing the Asian qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign.

“This is a big vic­tory for us but it was a de­served one,” added the Franco-Bos­nian af­ter his side im­proved to 10 points from five games, with five re­main­ing.

“We have had to stay strong to come back from some dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions and no doubt there will be more to over­come be­fore we get to Rus­sia.”

Kiy­otake con­verted on the stroke of half-time af­ter Saudi de­fender Ab­dul­malek Al Khaibri was ad­judged to have han­dled, de­spite re­plays show­ing Kiy­otake’s ini­tial shot had struck him in the chest. The Saudis protested fu­ri­ously to ref­eree Muham­mad bin Ja­hari of Sin­ga­pore and scuf­fles broke out be­tween the play­ers, which con­tin­ued as they dis­ap­peared down the tun­nel at the in­ter­val. Haraguchi ef­fec­tively killed off Saudi’s hopes of pinch­ing a point with a sharp fin­ish af­ter 80 min­utes fol­low­ing a deft flick from sub­sti­tute Shinji Ka­gawa.

Oth­man’s 90th-minute strike crept across the line in a mo­ment of cruel irony for Ja­pan, who had a sim­i­lar ef­fort dis­al­lowed in a 2-1 de­feat to UAE in Septem­ber.

Saudi’s chances of pulling off an im­prob­a­ble es­cape evap­o­rated when cap­tain Osama Haw­sawi saw red for a clumsy chal­lenge in in­jury time. Saudi Ara­bia, who have failed to qual­ify for the last two World Cups, could have opened a six-point lead over Ja­pan. “It’s dif­fi­cult to ac­cept los­ing but we have to be hon­est and say that Ja­pan de­served to win,” said Saudi Ara­bia coach Bert van Mar­wijk. “We have the same points and the group will be cloe.” — AFP


SAITAMA: Saudi Ara­bia’s goal­keeper As­saf Alqarni (C) makes a save at­tempt against Ja­pan dur­ing their foot­ball match in Group B of the 2018 World Cup Asian qual­i­fier at Saitama Sta­dium in Saitama yes­ter­day.

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