Abu Dhabi: Japan rode on first-half goal, via a penalty by Genki Haraguchi, to beat Oman 1-0 in the Group F fixture of the Asian Cup at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Sunday to qualify for the round of 16 with two wins in two matches.
The Asian superpowers are thus unbeaten since their 3-2 defeat to Belgium at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, winning six of their last seven outings including this. They still have a group match in hand against Uzbekistan.
Oman, having lost both their first two fixtures now, have to win their last outing against Turkmenistan by a big margin on Thursday to have any outside chance of qualifying as the third best team.
Japan could have taken the lead in the second minute had Takumi Minamino been clinical. He had all the time in the world to blast the goal but tried to place it and found the outstretched foot of Oman goalkeeper Faiyz Al Rusheidi.
Few minutes later, again Minamino latched on to a long ball — beating the offside trap but his left-footed finish let him down again.
Oman almost scored from a counter-attack in the 19th minute. Salaah Al Yahyaei made a swift run down the left flank and sent in a cross for overlapping Muhsen Al Gasani, who caught the Japan goalkeeper on the wrong foot but his final release rolled agonisingly past the far post.
In the 24th minute, Oman goalkeeper Al Rusheidi kept out another attempt from Minamino. The rebound landed at the foot of midfielder Ritsu Doan but the latter’s goal-bound attempt was headed away by an alert Khalid Al Braiki.
The breakthrough for Japan finally came in the 28th minute through a penalty. Oman’s Raed Sale, trying to clear the ball inside the box, caught the foot of Haraguchi and referee pointed it out to the spot. Haraguchi put Japan in the lead with a clinical finish.
Oman were clearly robbed of a penalty in the dying minutes of the first half. A full-blooded shot off a rebound by Al Yahyaei was deflected by hand by Yuto Nagatomo but referee Mohammad Amirul Izwan of Malaysia, ignored the vociferous appeals of Oman players. A VAR referral would have definitely gone in favour of Oman, but it’s only available for the tournament from the quarter-final onwards.
The first half intensity was clearly missing in the second half. Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu wouldn’t be very satisfied with the team’s showing, especially in the second half. They didn’t create as many chances they would have liked to press for a comprehensive win. Oman too didn’t have the firepower to get the equalisers and in the end, the one goal lead was enough for Japan to complete their second win in the tournament.