Asian Cup 2019

Japan punish goal-shy Saudis to reach quarter-finals

Takehiro Tomiyasu (No. 16) rising highest to head home Japan's winner against Saudi Arabia at the Sharjah Stadium in the United Arab Emirates yesterday. The Samurai Blue will face Vietnam in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Takehiro Tomiyasu (No. 16) rising highest to head home Japan's winner against Saudi Arabia at the Sharjah Stadium in the United Arab Emirates yesterday. The Samurai Blue will face Vietnam in the quarter-finals on Thursday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHARJAH • Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu was full of praise for his players' fighting spirit after they overcame three-time Asian Cup champions Saudi Arabia 1-0 to advance to the quarter-finals.

Takehiro Tomiyasu's lone strike was enough to send the Saudis crashing out at the Sharjah Stadium in the United Arab Emirates yesterday.

"I knew Saudi Arabia was a team with offensive power and I was ready to face a tough battle," Moriyasu said after the match.

"But they fought more strongly than I imagined and my players took a tough stance all the way to the end.

"They persistently fought without stopping their feet.

"Of course we wanted to attack even more, but I think the players did well in terms of the flow of the game."

Japan, record four-time winners of the Asian Cup, march on to a quarter-final with South-east Asian champions Vietnam despite not yet hitting top form at the tournament.

The Vietnamese stunned Jordan 4-2 on penalties after their last-16 clash ended 1-1 on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia were in the ascendancy early on, but it was Japan who snatched the advantage with a straightforward goal from a set piece on 20 minutes.

From a corner, Belgium-based defender Tomiyasu climbed above his marker and nodded firmly into the bottom corner for his first of the tournament.

The Saudis twice came close with headers as they battled to find an equaliser, and Hatan Bahbri curled one just off target as he went for the top corner.

Yoshinori Muto's shot was blocked on the hour mark, but most of the chances were falling to Saudi Arabia, who will rue some wasteful finishing.

Bahbri's shot from outside the box crept narrowly wide and Ali Al-Bulaihi powered a strong header over when the ball was knocked back into the area after a free kick.

But, despite a late flurry, it remained another goalless outing for the Saudis, who have not found the net since scoring six goals in their first two group games.

Japan, who claimed their last title in 2011, extended their perfect winning record in the tournament after also winning all three of their group matches.

Meanwhile, defending champions Australia reached the last eight after beating Uzbekistan 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out following a goal-less draw after extra-time.

The Socceroos will meet host United Arab Emirates or Kyrgyzstan in the quarter-finals on Friday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

ASIAN CUP

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2019, with the headline 'Japan punish goal-shy Saudis to reach quarter-finals'. Print Edition | Subscribe