Japan closing in on spot at 2014 World Cup
Beats Oman 2-1, Iraq tops Jordan 1-0
Striker Shinji Okazaki scored a late winner Wednesday as Japan beat Oman 2-1 to move closer to clinching a spot in the 2014 World Cup, while Iraq revived its campaign with a 1-0 victory against Jordan.
Group A was thrown wide open after Uzbekistan beat Iran 1-0 to go top. Qatar beat Lebanon 1-0 to join Iran and South Korea as only a point behind, although the Koreans didn't play and have a game in hand.
With Oman pressing, Japan went on the counterattack and Gotoku Sakai's cross into the area deflected off Yasuhito Endo and landed into the path of Okazaki, who scored in the 89th minute.
Japan leads Group B in Asian qualifying by eight points over Australia, Jordan and Oman and is on the verge of reaching its fifth World Cup with three matches remaining.
"The first half was tough for us as it was hot and made an impact on the players. But as the sun set and conditions became better, it suited our style and we played better in the second half," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. "Oman played good and it was difficult to break through their defence. But I instructed my players to attack more from the flanks, which finally worked in our favour."
Oman almost took the lead in the 10th. Amad al-Hosni's quick throw-in caught the Japan defence sleeping, but Fawzi Bashir blazed a shot over the crossbar.
Japan started pressing and scored in the 20th minute thanks to Yuto Nagatomo's cross to Hiroshi Kiyotake, who slotted the ball into the net after a defensive lapse by Rashid al-Farsi.
Oman had a chance to level in the 36th when Ismail al-Ajmi fed Al Gheilani Hassan Yousuf Madhafar, whose header hit the post and rolled across the goal-mouth before being cleared to safety.
Oman levelled when a free kick from Ahmed Mubarak slipped under the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima in the 77th.
Three minutes later, Kawashima was forced to race off his line to block at the feet of Saleh.
"I am proud of my boys and happy on the way they played against one of the best teams in the world," Oman coach Paul Le Guen said. "We still have nine points to fight for and we will not give up till the end."
Iraq won its first match due to Ahmed Hammadi's blistering shot from outside the area in the 86th minute. Iraq plays its matches in Qatar due to security concerns at home.
"The match was very difficult. We had a youthful team at our disposal. I congratulate them for winning this," Iraq coach Zico said. "We badly needed a win to remain alive in the fray."
Jordan was left to rue some missed chances that could have given it the momentum early on. In the 30th minute, striker Abdallah Deeb's shot flew just over the crossbar, and he was denied four minutes later by a great save from goalkeeper Noor Sabri, who only got better as the match wore on.
Sabri stopped Husam Ibrahim Ali in the second half from point-blank range and then turned away a shot from substitute Hamza al-Dardour in the closing minutes with an acrobatic save. He first stopped the ball with his left foot and then cleared it with his right hand.
On the hour mark, Jordan replaced both strikers with Ahmed Hayel coming in for Thaer Bawab and Odai al-Saify for Abdallah. Ahmed wasted one chance with a weak finish.
"We have created many chances but couldn't convert," Jordan coach Adnan Ahmed. "This is football, but this isn't the end of road for us. We hope that we can improve in our game next time. We still have three games and the door is wide open."
Jordan is bottom of Group B, nine points behind leader Japan.
In Doha, a long-range strike from Uruguayan-born striker Sebastian Suria helped Qatar beat Lebanon.
Suria took a pass from Fabio Cesar and fired the ball from 20 metres (yards) outside the area, sending it curling past 'keeper Abbas Hassan. The goal set off raucous celebrations among the home supporters, who are desperate for a good showing after Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar almost doubled its lead 10 minutes later when Suria back-heeled a pass to Lawrence, whose driving shot was knocked away by Hassan. Lebanon had a chance to level in injury time but a diving Qasem Burhan saved Roda Antar's shot.
"I want to congratulate the players for the victory. The players are good and realized they had to raise their game and they did just that," Qatar coach Paulo Autuori said. "We deserve to win the match."
Uzbekistan turned the tables on Iran after having lost their last match with a last-gasp goal.
Uzbekistan striker Ulugbek Bakaev got on the end of a curling free kick from Server Djepararov to score the winner in the 71st minute.
Iran had a chance to equalize but substitute Milad Nori's injury-time strike was disallowed for offside.