Japan Wins World Cup Playoff Berth
TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s hope for its first-ever berth in World Cup soccer finals revived Saturday with a 5-1 rout of Kazakhstan in their final Asian Group B qualifying match.
With 13 points, Japan will finish second in the group regardless of the results Sunday in third-place United Arab Emirates’ final game at home against the top team, South Korea, which has already won an automatic berth.
The Emirates have accumulated nine points in seven games.
Only the two Asian group winners automatically qualify for the finals in France next year.
To decide a third Asian berth, Japan will now go to Malaysia to meet Asian Group A’s runner-up in a crucial playoff Nov. 16. Japan’s opponent will be decided next week from among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Iran has played all eight games, earning 12 points. Qatar, with 10 points, will play its last match at home on Wednesday against Saudi Arabia, which has 11 points.
A win is worth three points and a draw one point.
In Saturday’s match before a capacity crowd of 60,000 at Tokyo’s National Stadium, the smaller but fast-moving Japanese eleven started aggressively and dominated throughout the first half.
Yutaka Akita headed in a free-kick lob from Hidetoshi Nakata to put Japan ahead in the 12th minute.
Four minutes later, Naoki Soma dribbled past a defender and passed to Nakata who slammed the ball into the net past goalie Yuriy Ishutin.
Masashi Nakayama converted a free-kick pass from Nakata in the 45th minute, and Japan led 3-0 at halftime.
Nakayama and Takuya Takagi have just joined the national team to replace ace forwards Kazuyoshi Miura and Brazilian-born Wagner Lopes, who were suspended last week each with two yellow cards they had drawn in the qualifying round.
Japan continued its all-attack and all-defense tactics and remained in control in the second half, scoring a fourth goal through Masashi Ihara in the 67th minute.
A series of Kazak counterattacks paid off in the 73rd minute when Pavel Yevteyev scored his team’s only goal.
Takagi, assisted by Soma, scored the fifth Japanese goal in the 89th minute.