Saudis stunned as Japan sink Syria
© AFP

On the back of their opening draw with Japan, Jordan struck another blow for the underdogs at the AFC Asian Cup 2011 by beating Saudi Arabia 1-0. The result, secured via a first-half goal from Baha Abdulrahman, means the Saudis became the first team to be knocked out of this year’s continental showpiece - with new coach Nasser Al Johar suffering a painful defeat in his first game at the helm.

In Thursday’s other match, Japan emerged 2-1 victors against Syria in a dramatic game featuring two penalty kicks and two red cards. This result gives the Samurai Blue a total of four points and puts them level on points with Jordan at the top of Group B.

The match
Syria 1-2 Japan, Qatar Sports Club Stadium, Doha, 13 January 2011
Goals: Firas Al Khatib ‘76 pen. (Syria); Makoto Hasebe ‘35, Keisuke Honda ‘82 pen. (Japan)
After kicking off with a disappointing draw against Jordan, Japan bounced back to pick up all three points in a hard-fought clash with Syria, though they needed to soak up a good deal of pressure late on. The Samurai Blue started in positive fashion and opened the scoring in the 35th minute, Daisuke Matsui passing the ball into the path of Makoto Hasebe who drove it past Syrian goalkeeper Mosab Balhous from outside the area.

In the second half Syria levelled the scores after goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was adjudged to have fouled substitute Sanharib Malki Sabah in the box, with Iranian referee Torky Mohsen awarding a penalty and giving Kawashima his marching orders. Firas Al Khatib stepped up to score the equaliser from spot, but Syria’s joy lasted for just six minutes.

After Japan’s Shinji Okazaki went down in the penalty area, the referee immediately pointed to the spot once more, allowing Keisuke Honda to dispatch what turned out to be the winner with eight minutes remaining. The drama was not over yet, however, with Syria’s Nadim Sabagh also seeing red after a receiving a second yellow card late on.

The surprise
Jordan 1-0 Saudi Arabia, Al Rayyan Stadium, Doha, 13 January 2011
Goal: Baha Abdulrahman ‘42 (Jordan)  
Following the Saudis’ decision to replace their Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro with Nasser Al Johar following their opening Group B defeat to Syria, most expected the Green Falcons to react in positive fashion against Adnan Hamad’s Jordan side. And though Hamad had to do without captain and inspirational defender Hatem Aqel, injured against Japan, the Jordanian defence played superbly and nullified the threat posed by Saudi forwards Naif Hazazi and Yasser Al Qahtani.

After Jordan’s Baha Abdulrahman had surprised the Saudi keeper Waleed Abdullah with a long-range cross-cum-shot to open the scoring just before the interval, the second half was one of almost constant Saudi pressure. Indeed, Nasser Al Shamrani came close to scoring an equaliser with 15 minutes remaining, but Jordan’s goalkeeper Amer Shafi was equal to the task, in the process securing his team a valuable win and sending the Green Falcons crashing out the competition.

The star
Amer Shafi, Jordan 
Keeper Shafi was in inspirational form for Jordan throughout their game against Saudi Arabia, denying the opposition time and time again. The custodian, who plays his club football for Al Wahdat, was particularly to the fore in the 16th and 75th minutes, when saving from Hazazi and Al Shamrani respectively.

The stat
2 - The number of times Saudi Arabia have failed to qualify from the group stage at the Asian Cup. In the last eight editions of the competition the Saudis have won the title three times and been runners-up on three occasions. Having previously fallen at the first hurdle in 2004, they have done so again here at Qatar 2011 after kicking off their campaign with two successive defeats.

What they said
“I want to thank the players for the great game they played, despite being under big pressure. We still have a lot of work to do although our aims are higher now and hopefully we can go as far as possible in the tournament. The game was hard for us as it was against a big team. Saudi Arabia went into the game with winning their only option after losing the first game against Syria. My players grew in confidence after the draw with Japan and today we were defensively solid, played well and fully deserved our win,” Jordan coach Adnan Hamad.

“The performance of the players was good tonight, but in the two games that we’ve played luck’s not been with us. Tonight we played a good game and we had chances but we didn't take advantage of our superiority. Jordan were lucky today for the goal that we conceded, because the ball was meant to be a cross. But that’s football, and perhaps we will do better in the future,” Saudi coach Nasser Al Johar.