Relief for Japan, joy for Syria
© AFP

Matchday 3 of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 more than lived up to expectations as the four sides fighting it out in Group B served up two exciting encounters. In the day’s opening match Jordan came within an ace of stunning hotly tipped Japan before Syria silenced the pundits by holding off Saudi Arabia for a surprise 2-1 victory, a result that shot them into first place in the section.

The match
Japan 1-1 Jordan, Qatar SC Stadium, Doha
Hasan Abdalfatah 45 (Jordan); Maya Yoshida 92 (Japan)

Pre-match favourites Japan left it very late before claiming a point against a Jordan side seemingly on course for a shock win after Hasan Abdalfatah’s first-half opener. Well organised at the back, Adnan Hamad’s charges made life difficult throughout for the Japanese, blunting the threat posed by Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo. And when Alberto Zaccheroni’s side did get a sight of goal Amer Shafi kept them at bay, the Jordan shotstopper pulling off a string of fine saves, the best of them to deny Ryoichi Maeda from close range.

Not to be outdone, the Jordanians created openings of their own, with Abdullah Deeb and Basem Fathi going close before Abdalfatah fired them in front on the stroke of half-time, his fierce shot from the edge of the penalty area being diverted home by a Japanese defender.

Intent on maintaining their hard-won advantage, the Jordanians then retreated, content to soak up the pressure as the clock ran down. A late injury to the captain and defensive cornerstone Hatem Aqel proved to be fateful, however, as Yoshida rose high in the second minute of injury time to head the relieved Japanese level.

The surprise
Saudi Arabia 1-2 Syria, Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Abdelrazaq Al Hussain 38, 63 (Syria); Taisir Al-Jassim 60 (Saudi Arabia)

Syria caused a shock as they saw off the 2007 Asian Cup runners-up in a thrilling game. Cheered on by a sizeable crowd, the Eagles struggled to contain the Saudis in the opening exchanges. Yasser Al-Qahtani and Nasser Al-Shamrani orchestrated the pressure on Mosab Balhous in the Syria goal, with Al-Shamrani almost putting the Green Falcons ahead. Valeriu Tita’s men gradually got into the game, however, with Al Zeno going close moments before Abdelrazaq Al Hussain gave them an unexpected lead, his drive taking a deflection off Abdullah Shuhail to leave Saudi custodian Waleed Abdullah helpless.

The introduction of Taisir Al-Jassim and Naif Hazazi paid dividends for the much-fancied Saudis after the restart, with Hazazi nodding in an equaliser. That was as good as it got for them, however, as Al Hussain struck with another deflected shot to complete the scoring and secure a famous win for the Syrians.

The star
Abdelrazaq Al Hussain, Syria
The Syrian forward grabbed the day’s headlines with his double strike. And though both Al Hussain’s goals owed something to good fortune, neither he nor his team-mates were complaining as they upset the odds to move to the top of Group B.

The stat
9 - The number of shots on target in Japan’s 1-1 draw with Jordan. Alberto Zaccheroni’s side accounted for seven of them but were left to rue their failure to convert that statistic into more goals.

What they said
“My team put in a good performance. The players stuck to their task in terms of discipline and tactics and the only shame was that we couldn’t quite see it through. On balance it was probably a fair result but when you have an opportunity against a team as strong as Japan you have to take it. Our plan worked well and we almost came away with the three points. We were under tremendous pressure in the closing stages, but you’d expect that against a team that’s going flat out for an equaliser,” Adnan Hamad, Jordan coach.

“We controlled the game for 90 minutes, and we had 17 shots on goal, seven of them on target. We didn’t have a lot of luck, but I have to say the Jordan keeper had a very fine game. In the first half we didn’t play at our usual pace and that made it hard for us to break down their well-drilled defence. Things improved in the second half though,” Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan coach.