Japan, Iraq advance to Asian Cup quarterfinals
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Keisuke Honda scored in a third straight Asian Cup game as Japan weathered a determined Jordan 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals as a group winner on Tuesday.
Iraq followed Japan from Group D after Younis Mahmoud and Ahmed Yaseen gave it a 2-0 victory over already-eliminated Palestine.
Defending champion Japan will next face the United Arab Emirates in Sydney on Friday, when Iraq plays Iran in Canberra.
The Japanese constantly stretched the Jordan defense, and inevitably broke through in the 24th minute when Honda coolly slotted home a rebound at the near post after a powerful shot by Shinji Okazaki was parried by Amer Shafi.
Honda, saved from Shafi as early as the second minute, took six shots on goal for one reward at Rectangular Stadium.
“This was a game with intensity and fight from both teams. The opponent demanded our best play,” Japan coach Javier Aguirre said.
Masato Morishige was carried from the field in the 40th after a nasty head clash with Jordan’s Ahmad Mohammad, who was, somewhat harshly, shown a yellow card. Morishige returned to the field minutes later.
Jordan opened the second half vastly more organized, and managed to put the Japanese on the back foot, but was unable to make the most of its chances as fatigue set in.
“I’m naturally very disappointed to be heading back to Jordan tomorrow,” Jordan coach Ray Wilkins said. “It’s going to take a very, very good team to beat (Japan).”
Player-of-the-match Shinji Kagawa put the win beyond doubt eight minutes from the end of regulation time when he met a long centering pass from Yoshinori Muto in front of goal and fired in, in front of a sellout crowd of 25,000, including tennis star Kei Nishikori, in town for the Australian Open.
“The team victory is the most important thing,” Kagawi said. “A very tough game is waiting for us, so we should prepare well for the victory.”
Japan has yet to concede a goal after seeing off Palestine, Iraq and Jordan.
“The team has defended very well,” Aguirre said. “Difficult games are waiting for us.”
After Iraq and Palestine went to halftime at 0-0 in Canberra, Mahmoud broke the deadlock when he headed in an Ali Adnan Kadhim cross three minutes into the new half.
Yaseen sealed the win in the last moments when he gathered a Yaser Safa Kasim pass and found the net at the near post.
Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil Swadi said he was disappointed his side would not have more time to prepare for Iran in the quarterfinals.
“But we’ve got young players, and we’re working on them to get ready,” Swadi said.
Palestine almost equalized minutes after Mahmoud’s opener when Ashraf Alfawaghra charged off a loose Iraq pass, but his shot was blocked by the outstretched boot of Iraq ’keeper Jalal Hassan.
Palestine coach Ahmad Al Hassan praised his side’s performance against the higher-ranked Iraq, but said the political situation between the Palestinian Territories and Israel hindered his side’s preparation.
“We are the only nation in this tournament that is under occupation,” he said. “This means we don’t have the same resources (as others). The players from Gaza cannot even play in one place — we have to leave Palestine for training.
“All these factors contributed negatively.”