The 'Agony of Doha' remains etched in Japanese footballing memory 16 years after the unforgettable events of 28 October 1993. It was then that the Blue Samurai conceded an injury-time equaliser to shatter their dreams of a maiden FIFA World Cup™ appearance and allow Saudi Arabia and arch-rivals Korea Republic to overhaul them in the standings and secure Asia's two berths at USA 94. FIFA.com takes a closer look at this crucial match, which has its place in Japanese footballing folklore for all the wrong reasons.
28 October 1993, Al-Ahli Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Iraq 2-2 Japan
Scorers: Japan (Miura 5, Nakayama 69), Iraq (Radhi 55, Salman 90+1)
Japan: Matsunaga, Horiike, Ihara, Hashiratani, Katsuya, Moriyasu, Ramos, Yoshida, Hasegawa (Fukuda 59), Nakayama (Takeda 81), Miura
Iraq: Saad, S. Hussein, S. Radhi, Hassan, Abdul, Hamed (Hanoon 71), Jassim (Salman 45), Minshed, L. Hussein, Kadhim, A. Radhi
With one match left in the six-team final qualification phase, Japan maintained a narrow lead in a congested table that had five nations still harbouring dreams of booking their spot at USA 1994. Without a FIFA World Cup appearance to their name Japan had never been closer to the world stage and but had to face regional footballing powerhouse Iraq, who had reached the finals of Mexico 1986. The Japanese knew that a draw could even be enough to qualify depending on other results. Iraq were also still alive in the standings but needed to claim maximum points and hope results fell in their favour.
Striker Kazuyoshi Miura gave Japan a dream start just five minutes in, when he headed the opening goal after a thunderous shot from midfielder Kenta Hasegawa cannoned back off the crossbar. The east Asian side's compact midfield controlled the game, and Hans Ooft's team rarely looked troubled during the first half.
Iraq came out a different side in the second half and as the stifling heat in the Qatari capital began to take its toll on the Japanese players, Ahmed Radhi equalised following a tenacious run ten minutes after the interval. Fourteen minutes later, though, Masashi Nakayama steered Japan back on course for qualification when he latched onto a through ball from midfield general Ruy Ramos and beat the offside trap to inch his side ahead.
Iraq kept pressing and were eventually rewarded in injury time when Ala Kadhim swung a cross into the penalty box for Jaffar Salman to head home a goal that ruined Japan's long-held FIFA World Cup dreams which were just moments from being realised. The distraught Japanese players slumped to the ground and barely had time to kick-off before the final whistle went. Saudi Arabia's dramatic 4-3 defeat of Iran and Korea Republic's 3-0 win over Korea DPR consigned Japan to third place on goal difference, leaving them excruciatingly close to a qualifying berth.
The result also saw Iraq eliminated with the results of the other two matches meaning they finished two points off the pace. While Iraq have not since qualified for a FIFA World Cup, they did taste continental glory at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.
Miura's mesmerising dribbling skills and appetite for goals, including the only goal in Japan's crucial 1-0 win over Korea Republic three days earlier, was the driving force behind the visitors' play. 'King Kazu', as he is known, scored in three consecutive USA 94 qualifying matches during the final round-robin phase in October 1993, but in the end not even that proved enough to propel Japan to the finals.
"I can't remember the changing room after the game, or speaking to the media afterward, or the bus ride back to the hotel. I had devoted myself to my World Cup dream. We had so many training camps that I spent more time with my team-mates than with my family. I could see the World Cup right in front of me but when I went to grab it, it vanished into thin air," Japan midfielder Hajime Moriyasu
"It was a magnificent match between two teams desperate to win. Although we didn't win, it was one of the best matches of my career. The Iraqi team played hard but fair, and with pride. I bumped into them at the hotel that night. I remember they said Japan were a wonderful team. I thanked them and told them they were also a fantastic side," Japan midfielder Ruy Ramos
What happened next
Japan set out to exorcise its Doha demons by qualifying for France 1998, with coach Shu Kamo replaced by Takeshi Okada in 1997 after a string of disappointing results during the early qualifying rounds. Okada's appointment would then transform the team, culminating in a gripping 3-2 play-off victory over Iran that finally earned Japan their first FIFA World Cup finals appearance.