DOHA - Japan beat Syria 2-1 in an Asian
Cup Group B game that exploded into life in the closing stages
when each side were awarded a penalty and both teams had a
player sent off.
Japan were seemingly coasting to victory through skipper
Makoto Hasebe's 35th minute goal when keeper Eiji Kawashima
felled Sanharib Malki who had just been wrongly flagged for
offside by the linesman after a mix-up in the Japan defence.
Japan's Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni explained to
rreporters that "the referee said the Syrian player was not
offside, that our player had played the last ball back.
"He sent Kawashima off for the foul, but the linesman was
wrong to flag for offside."
The Japan players reacted angrily to the decision and
protested that play should have been stopped when the flag went
up. However, Iranian referee Torky Mohsen ruled that the game
was still active when the foul took place.
"He had a different view to the assistant," said Zaccheroni
who added he was relieved to have won. "We played well, we were
in control and we are still in the competition," he said.
After Japan regained their discipline following the first
seriously controversial incident of the tournament, Kawashima
finally walked off and Firas Khatib fired past their substitute
keeper Shusaku Nishikawa to make it 1-1 after 76 minutes.
Six minutes later Mohsen awarded Japan a penalty after
Shinji Okazaki was sandwiched between defenders Belal Abduldaim
and Ali Dyab.
It looked a soft decision but Keisuke Honda scored from the
spot to restore Japan's lead.
In the sixth minute of stoppage-time, Syria defender Nadim
Sabag had a moment of madness when he ran out of the defensive
wall and hacked at the ball before Japan took a free-kick. That
earned him a second yellow and he walked off shaking his head.
Syria's Romanian coach Valeriu Tita was unhappy about that
incident and about conceding the decisive penalty.
"Their goalkeeper deserved the red card but we didn't
deserve one," he said. "But I admit, my team started with some
fear. They were scared but later on they restored their
confidence after Firas came on at halftime.
"He can't play for longer as he has been injured. I am not
sure it was a penalty either. The referee saw it that way
After playing two matches Japan and Jordan have four points
with Syria on three while three-times champions Saudi Arabia
were eliminated after their second defeat by Jordan earlier on
Syria meet Jordan in their last match on Monday while Japan
play the Saudis.
With the game at the Qatar Sports Club Stadium seemingly
meandering to an inevitable end, there was little indication of
the drama to come with 18 minutes to play.
Japan had quickly asserted their mastery over the west
Asians whose upset win over Saudi Arabia in their opening game
was expected to give them more confidence going into this one.
But Japan, who had won all six previous internationals
between the two countries dating back to 1978, were in no mood
to make the kind of mistakes that saw them needing a last-minute
equaliser in their 1-1 draw with Jordan on Sunday.
Zaccheroni kept faith with the same starting lineup that had
stumbled out of the blocks against Jordan, relying on Honda and
Shinji Kagawa to lead the line.
Japan dominated the first half and the pressure paid off
when Syria failed to clear an increasingly frantic attack which
ended with the ball in the net after Kagawa's shot was blocked.
Daisuke Matsui set up Hasebe with a delicate touch and,
although he failed to strike the ball cleanly, it bobbled wide
of goalkeeper Mosab Balhous to give Japan an advantage that had
looked to be enough until the dramatic finale.
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