September 2 – Asian qualifying for the Russia 2018 World Cup opened with all 12 teams in action and a shock 2-1 for the UAE over Japan. Australia and Saudi Arabia also had campaign opening wins in the group.
On the other side of the draw there were wins for Iran and Uzbekistan while the Korea Republic narrowly overcome a rejunvenated China 3-2. With all goals coming in the second half, Korea took a 3-0 lead before China struck back with two quick goals setting up a thrilling finish to the game
It was AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil who led the United Arab Emirates to their stunning 2-1 upset over four-time Asian champions Japan with both goals. Japan had opened the scoring with an 11th minute Keisuke Honda header but a Khalil free-kick nine minutes later saw the teams head into the break locked at 1-1. Khalil struck again with a 54th minute penalty to secure the UAE’s first win in a World Cup qualifying against Japan in front of a 58,895-strong crowd at the Saitama Stadium.
Not everyone was happy though. The crowd were stunned into disbelief as Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim waved play on despite UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa belatedly clawing away a 77th-minute shot from substitute Takuma Asano that looked well over the line.
That decision sparked a furious round of protests. “The referee was unacceptable,” fumed Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic whose side now travel to Bangkok to face Thailand on Sept. 6 for a must-win fixture over the world’s 120th-ranked nation.
Japanese skipper Makoto Hasebe remonstrated with the officials at the final whistle, while the triumphant UAE players knelt and raised their arms in silent prayer.
“I had a good look at it and I know it went in,” said Japan forward Keisuke Honda of the ghost goal. “It wasn’t given so there’s no point in going on about it now, but in order to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen often and there’s no doubt, the fourth official has to be there.
“I was looking for the fourth official but all I could see were the linesmen. Of course I’m not trying to say that the result hinged only on that one incident. But when you’re playing against improved teams in the final round of the Asian qualifiers and every game is difficult, I would like to see things done at a certain level.”
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