Japan survive scare, Qatar get welcome Asian Cup win
Y UYA Osako’s quick f ire double spa red Japa n’s blushes against lowly Turk menistan at the Asian Cup on Wednesday, as 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar brief ly lifted the clouds of t he Gulf cr isis wit h a 2-0 win over Lebanon.
Uzbekistan left it late before seeing off Oman 2-1 but it was four-t ime cha mpions Japa n who had the biggest scare as they had to come from behind from a team ranked 127th in t he world.
Arsla n Amanov’s f irst-half rocket raised t he prospect of a titanic upset by Turkmenis t a n but Os a k o’s br a c e restored order before Ritsu Doan appeared to make the game safe.
However, A h met At ayev buried a penalt y 11 minutes from time before Japan surv ived to win 3-2, a f ur t her 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 bat t le,” s a id Japa n coach Hajime Moriyasu, who was relieved to get off to a winning start in Group F.
“Obviously we’re happy to get t he t hree 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 laboured to a 1-0 win over the Philippines and China needed a n ow n goa l to spa rk a 2-1 comeback win against Kyrg yzstan.
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.
B u t Tu r k men c a pt a i n Amanov put the heav y underdogs ahead after 26 minutes in Abu Dhabi, unleashing a ferocious long-ra nge drive t hat arrowed into the top corner.
Osa ko produced a sma r t turn and finish inside the box to equalise 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, tappi ng i nto a n empty net, and Doan added a def lected 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 f i x t ure, i n Sha r ja h, Eldor Shomurodov was the hero for Uzbekistan as he struck four minutes from time to grab a 2-1 win.
Shanghai SIPG midf ielder Odil Ahmedov fired the White Wolves ahead on 34 minutes wit h a low f ree k ick, before Oman’s Muhsen Al-Ghassani levelled midway through the second half.
But a s f u l l t i me loomed, Shomurodov shrugged off the attent ions of t wo defenders and beat goalkeeper Faiz AlRushaidi at his near post to clinch v ictor y.
El se where, Qat a r ’s c a mpa ig n i n Group E opened under the shadow of the Gulf showdown that has left them blockaded a nd shunned by t hei r neig hbours, i ncluding A sia n Cup host s UA E, for more than 18 months.
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 brea kthrough came on 65 minutes, when Bassam Al-Rawi swept a curl i ng f ree k ick over t he wall and past a div ing Mehdi Kahlil.
Substitute defender Abdelkarim Hassan, the 2018 Asian player of the year, was causing problems down the left and it was his brea k t hat 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 as well as contending with the Gulf blockade are also desperate for a good showing before t heir next major tournament – the 2022 World Cup on home soil.