Japan pummels Saudi Arabia 5-0 to grab place in Asian cup's last 8
DOHA (AP) ― Japan and Jordan reached the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup with contrasting victories on Monday.
Three-time cup champion Japan humbled Saudi Arabia 5-0 and Jordan came from behind to defeat Syria 2-1 and reach the quarters for the second time in its history.
The victories left Japan top of Group B on goal difference from Jordan.
Japan will play Qatar, second in Group A, in the last eight on Friday, and Jordan faces Uzbekistan, the winner of Group A, also on Friday.
While few people turned up to watch two former Asian Cup champions in Japan and Saudi Arabia, thousands of Jordan fans braved the windy, rainy weather in Doha to watch their team deny neighboring Syria its first ever place in the tournament’s knockout stage.
“The Syrians had some chances but we played well and were focused and full of discipline,” Jordan coach Adnan Hamad said.
Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi (left) saves a shot against Syria. (Xinhua-Yonhap News)
In Jordan, fans poured into the streets of the capital Amman, waving national flags and dancing to the beat of traditional drums, praising their footballers as “heroes” and celebrating unity as political uncertainty deepens across the Middle East.
Jordan striker Odai al-Saify scored the winning goal in the 59th minute, slipping past Syria defender Ali Dyab and chipping the ball over the shoulder of goalkeeper Mosab Balhous.
Syria, needing a win to progress, took the lead when Mohammed al-Zino turned home the rebound in the 15th minute after goalkeeper Amer Shafi had saved a shot from Sanhabrib Malki.
Jordan, which lost to Japan on penalties in the 2004 quarterfinals, equalized when Dyab headed a cross into his own net in the 30th.
Jordan, only needing a draw to advance, chose to sit back early as the Syrians pressed repeatedly. Syria had its first chance in the 11th minute when midfielder Jehad al-Hussien crossed to Sanharib Malki, but his header went wide.
“We really started well and scored a goal,” Syria coach Valeriu Tita said. “But then we gifted Jordan two goals. That is it.”
Saudi Arabia had already been eliminated before being humiliated by Japan after disastrous performances against Syria and Jordan that forced the Saudi King to intervene, dumping Jose Peseiro as coach and replacing the president of the football federation.
Naser al-Johar, Peseiro’s replacement, apologized to his team’s fans but said his players tried their best despite finishing the tournament with three defeats.
“I would like to state that we wanted to give you a very beautiful performance, but we haven’t given the crowd a performance that can redeem our national team in the entire tournament,” said al-Johar, who has coached the Saudi team on several occasions.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni praised his young team after it cruised through the group stage without a loss.
“We improved with every game so far,” Zaccheroni said. “It’s a young team and sometimes we play fantastic football, but we still need to improve.”
Shinji Okazaki hit a hat trick and Ryoichi Maeda struck twice for Japan, which took control of the match early on with Okazaki scoring twice inside the opening 13 minutes.
He collected a through ball from Yasuhito Endo, lifted it over the goalkeeper and fired into the empty net in the eighth minute. He connected at the far post with a long cross from Shinji Kagawa five minutes later.
With Japan in total command, Okazaki’s strike partner, Maeda, made it 3-0 in the 19th minute following a cross by Yuto Nagatomo. Shinji Kagawa might have added a fourth before the break, but was foiled by goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah.
Maeda notched his second in the 51st minute, nodding home a cross by substitute defender Masahiko Inoha from close range.
Okazaki completed his hat trick in the 80th minute after collecting a pass on the edge of the penalty area and turning to slot home.
Few people came to see the two former champions ― Japan and Saudi Arabia ― on a windy, rainy and cool afternoon, with the official attendance given as 2,022 at Al-Rayyan stadium.