Dubai: The UAE drew one step closer to qualifying for a fourth Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup with a stunning 5-4 win over former Asian champions Japan at the AFC Beach Soccer Championships in Malaysia on Wednesday.
The gutsy win helped the UAE top Group C with a maximum nine points and book their place for Friday’s semi-final against Lebanon — winners of Group B ahead of defending Asian champions Oman.
The second semi-final will be played between Asian heavyweights Iran and Japan, who managed to crawl in as the fourth-best team.
A win against Lebanon will not just guarantee a place in the final for the UAE, but along with it one of three spots for the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup to be hosted in the Bahamas in April.
A total of 12 teams have been involved in the AFC qualifiers being held in Kuala Terengganu with the best three teams advancing to the World Cup.
Going into Wednesday’s encounter, both Japan and UAE had maximum points and it was Japan who took control in a tight opening period with a powerful downward header from skipper Ozu that gave them a slender advantage going into the interval. Later it was Goto’s close-range finish that put Marcelo Mendes’s Japan seemingly in a comfortable position.
However, Ali Karim sent a low free-kick into the bottom corner of the net before Hasham Muntaser levelled with less than a minute of the period remaining. Ali Mohammad then put the UAE in front for the first time as his long-range strike bobbled in the sand to beat Terukina Shingo. Goto brought Japan back on terms with a well-taken set-piece, but UAE then did the damage as Haitham Mohammad and Ahmad Beshr registered late on to effectively seal the points.
Oba found the top corner — prompting heavy pressure from Japan in the hope of extra-time — but the UAE held firm to guarantee their semi-final place.