September 3 – Asia’s third and decisive round of World Cup qualifiers got under way with a stunning upset after Oman defeated continental heavyweights and top ranked Japan 1-0 to throw Group B wide open. Iran took the lead in Group A after a narrow 1-0 victory against Syria.
Thursday’s round of matches highlighted the ever more competitive qualifiers on the continent with the team of Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic, who has managed Persepolis, Shandong Luneng and Dinamo Zagreb, claiming the famous scalp of Japan with a disciplined performance against Hajime Moriyasu’s eleven, who enjoyed the majority of possession but failed to break down the visitors’ defense.
In the 88th minute, Issam Al Sabhi scored to secure the three points for the Omanis who have never reached a World Cup, against a team who have reached every World Cup since 1998. “It wasn’t good at all. We need to raise our intensity more than anything, with no holding back,” said captain Maya Yoshida.
“They dominated the game, they’ve prepared well,” added Moriyasu. “It turned out to be a really frustrating defeat. We’ll make our best preparation to get three points in the next game.”
His team will have to bounce back against China, who were dispatched 3-0 by Australia in Doha. The Qatari capital played host to the match because of Covid-19 restrictions in Australia and will also stage Japan-China on Tuesday.
Oman will take on Saudi Arabia in Muscat next with the confidence of a team that can play a substantial role in Group B and even dream of reaching Qatar.
The Saudis and Herve Renard struggled against Vietnam, featuring for the first time in this stage of the qualifiers, and the visitors got off to a dream start when star player Nguyen Quang Hai slotted home from outside the box in third minute, but Do Duy Manh’s red card in the 54th minute proved to be the turning point in the match with Saudi Arabia producing a second-half comeback to run out 3-1 winners.
In Group A, Iraq held Paulo Bento and South Korea to a goalless draw, restricting their illustrious opponents to just a few chances. The Iraqis featured at the global finals in 1986 but lost all of their three group games. They have turned to Dutch coach Dick Advocaat in this qualifying campaign in a bid to return to the World Cup. The Dutchman, who dismissed criticism from Bento over his team’s playing style, will face Iran next.
The Iranians did what was expected from them, even though Syria proved to be a resilient opponents. Without suspended star striker Sardar Azmoun from Zenit St Petersburg, it was Alireza Jahanbakhsh who got the only goal of the game. Team Melli will be pleased with three points as not only South Korea but the United Arab Emirates dropped points as well. Bert van Marwijk’s team drew 0-0 with Lebanon.
Twelve nations compete in the final round of the continent’s qualifiers for four tickets to Qatar, with the numbers three condemned to square off against each other for a ticket for an intercontinental playoff.
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