Japan claimed pole position in Group B of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 with a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia to set up a quarter-final meeting with hosts Qatar, while Jordan came from behind to beat Syria 2-1 to advance to the last eight where they will face Uzbekistan on Friday.
Jordan 2-1 Syria, Qatar Sports Club Stadium, Doha
Al Zino 15’ (Syria); Dyab (o.g.) 30’, Al Saify 59’ (Jordan)
There was all to play for in the showdown of the tournament’s surprise packages, and Syria took an early lead through a well-crafted counterattack. Sanharib Malki broke down into the right side of the area before firing a low shot that Amer Shafi managed to parry away, but Mohamad Al Zino was on hand to flick in the rebound.
But the lead was short-lived, as defender Ali Dyab’s attempted clearance from a free-kick ended up his own net. The Syrians needed a win to leapfrog into second place, but it was the Jordanians who came out strongly after the restart and turned the match in their favour thanks to a clinical strike from Odai Al Saify.
Saudi Arabia 0-5 Japan, Al Rayyan Stadium, Al Rayyan
Okazaki 8’, 13’, 80’ Maeda 19’, 51’ (Japan)
The clash between the three-time champions Saudi Arabia and Japan had been billed as the biggest match of the group stage, but with the former already eliminated after two straight defeats, nothing but national pride was at stake for the Saudis.
However, Japan took a seemingly unassailable three-goal lead with Shinji Okazaki netting a brace and Ryoichi Maeda adding another only 19 minutes from the kick-off. The attacking duo then added another goal apiece in the second half, as the Samurai Blue inflicted Saudi Arabia's heaviest defeat in recent years.
Shinji Okazaki, Japan
Despite having scored six goals to become the top scorer in the qualifying stages of this year’s Asian Cup finals, Shinji Okazaki made a sluggish start to the tournament proper. But the Japanese No9 finally broke his duck in his country’s final group game against Saudi Arabia, striking twice within five minutes with an audacious lob and then an acrobatic header, before completing a perfect hat-trick with his left foot.
1 – Saudi Arabia could only score one goal in their three games in the group stage, as the three-time past winners bowed out of Qatar 2011 with three consecutive defeats.
What they said
"I'm very satisfied with this result. We've overcome the first obstacle of the Asian Cup, which was to get through the group stage and we're improving with every game. Japan are behind others in preparation and we need to catch up to others and prove ourselves here," Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan coach
"Our preparation was not as good as it could have been, and we didn't have the ability to face other national teams at this tournament. But generally the Saudi national team is very strong. Sometimes we suffer setbacks, but we always recover," Nasser Al Johar, Saudi Arabia coach