Asano buries the ghost against Thais

Japan forward Takuma Asano celebrates after scoring against Thailand in a World Cup qualifier yesterday. Japan won 2-0.
Japan forward Takuma Asano celebrates after scoring against Thailand in a World Cup qualifier yesterday. Japan won 2-0.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Stuttgart forward seals a crucial win that revives Japan's World Cup qualifying bid

BANGKOK • Takuma Asano bounced back from last week's ghost goal controversy as he hit Japan's second in a 2-0 win over Thailand yesterday which re-ignited their World Cup qualifying bid.

The forward was denied a clear goal in Thursday's 2-1 defeat by UAE when officials failed to see his shot had crossed the line. But there was no doubt when he scored in Bangkok.

After Genki Haraguchi's first-half opener, Asano squeezed his shot under goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan to give Japan a two-goal cushion on 75 minutes.

The victory restores Japan's fortunes in Group B, where they are aiming to become one of two Asian teams to win automatic qualification to the Russia World Cup in 2018.

Japan ran Thailand ragged, with the passing and movement of AC Milan's Keisuke Honda and Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa cutting through the home side's defence with ease.

Former Manchester United man Kagawa missed a slew of clear chances. But Haraguchi and Asano, on loan at Stuttgart from Arsenal, sparked joy among the Japanese fans by netting their chances.

Thailand, who have not beaten Japan since 1997, now have an uphill task following two defeats in the space of a week.

They went down 0-1 to Saudi Arabia on Thursday after a contentious late penalty decision against them.

In Shenyang, China held heavyweights Iran to a gritty 0-0 draw to lift their hopes of reaching just their second World Cup Finals.

Asia's sleeping giants lacked ambition in the first half but they went for broke in the second in a performance that was good enough to earn them their first point in Group A.

China have featured only in the 2002 World Cup, but qualifying for Russia 2018 would be a significant statement for a country which aims to become a global football power.

There were encouraging signs in last week's 3-2 loss to South Korea, and Iran, Asia's top-ranked side, held few fears for Gao Hongbo's men in front of a big home crowd.

In another Group A match in Seremban, Malaysia, South Korea hit a speed bump in their bid to reach a 10th World Cup. They were held to a goal-less draw by a Syrian side who are unable to play at home due to the country's civil war.

The frustrated South Koreans dominated possession but largely failed to threaten the Syrian goal.

In their best chance, midfielder Lee Chung Yong was denied thanks to a fine save by goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma early in the second half.

The frantic Koreans stepped up the pressure in the final 20 minutes. But Syria defended in numbers to secure the draw despite playing eight minutes of extra time after a number of Syrian injuries during the night.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2016, with the headline 'Asano buries the ghost against Thais'. Print Edition | Subscribe