Japan top group with Bahrain win

Japan beat bitter but familiar foes Bahrain 2-0 for their second successive victory yesterday in a Group C match of the third round of Asian qualifiers for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.

This victory has moved Japan to the top of the group, which was more emphatic than the scoreline reflects, with six points. Syria are second with three points from their win over Bahrain last month, while Malaysia, who lost to Japan 2-0 in the first match, are third and Bahrain fourth, with both yet to win a point.

Three groups of four teams are playing home and away in the third round of the qualifiers with the winner of each group qualifying for the Olympics. The second best teams of the third round will play one centralised round-robin tournament and the winners take on a CAF team in a play-off.

Japan took a deserving lead a minute before half-time through Yuki Otsu, who scampered to connect a cross from the right by Takahiro Ogihara which beat Bahrain goalkeeper Salem Abdulla. 

Midfielder Keigo Higashi doubled the lead in the 67th minute making the most of another blunder by goalkeeper Abdulla, who failed to collect Naoki Yamada's feeble attempt from close range. The ball slipped out of the goalkeeper's hands and Higashi gleefully tapped the ball in much to the delight of the Japanese expatriate fans who surprisingly outnumbered the locals at the National Stadium.

Japan were clearly the dominant team right from the start with their forwards Otsu and Yuya Osako and overlapping midfielder Naoki Yamada making repeated runs deep into the Bahrain penalty area.

But the dangerous Otsu, who plies his trade at Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Budesliga, on the left was well marked by defender Mohammed Al Banna and that effectively took the sting out of many Japanese raids. Yet the one-way traffic harassed the Bahrain defence and kept their goalkeeper Abdulla endlessly busy. Japan's dominance in the first-half was evident from the six corners they managed compared to none from Bahrain.

Bahrain's best chance came in the 35th minute when midfielder Hesham Nayem unleashed a powerful long-range shot, which was saved by Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda. Their next attempt on goal was in the dying minutes when substitute Mohammed Al Alawi's shot was well saved by goalkeeper Gonda.

Japan could have completed the match on a high with a third goal in the 90th minute, but Osako's thundering shot from inside the penalty area was only able to rock the Bahrain goalpost.