BANGKOK, Sept 6, (AFP): Takuma Asano bounced back from last week’s disallowed goal controversy as he hit Japan’s second in a 2-0 win over Thailand which reignited their World Cup qualifying bid on Tuesday.
Asano was denied a clear goal in Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to UAE when officials failed to see his shot had crossed the line, but there was no doubt when he scored in Bangkok.
After Genki Haraguchi’s first-half opener, Asano squeezed his shot under goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan to give Japan a two-goal cushion on 75 minutes.
The victory restores Japan’s fortunes in Group A, where they are aiming to become one of two teams to win automatic qualification to the Russia World Cup in 2018.
Japan ran Thailand ragged, with the passing and movement of AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda and Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa cutting through the home side’s defence with ease.
Former Manchester United man Kagawa missed a slew of clear chances.
But the breakthrough came on 17 minutes as Hertha Berlin’s Haraguchi stooped to head home a deliciously weighted cross from the right.
It threatened a deluge of goals but Thailand clung on, thanks largely to goalkeeper Kawin who made several sharp saves to keep his side in the game.
His heroics nearly paid dividends on 70 minutes when a sweetly timed reverse pass put Thailand’s star striker Teerasil Dangda through on the Japanese goal.
But the one-time Almeria loan player — Thailand’s first export to Spain’s La Liga — could only scoop his shot at the goalkeeper.
Five minutes later Asano, on loan at Stuttgart from Arsenal, pounced on a bungled clearance and his shot squirmed under the diving Kawin, sparking joy among the Japanese fans.
Thailand, who have not beaten Japan since 1997, now have an uphill task following two defeats in the space of a week.
The War Elephants went down 0-1 to Saudi Arabia on Thursday after a contentious late penalty decision against them.
Saudi Arabia 2, Iraq 1
In Shah Alam, Malaysia, Nawaf Al Abed buried two penalties in the last nine minutes as Saudi Arabia came from a goal down to beat regional rivals Iraq 2-1 in World Cup qualifying.
War-torn Iraq, playing their home fixture in Malaysia’s Shah Alam, struck early through Mohannad Abdul-Raheem and looked headed for victory as the clock ticked down.
But on 81 minutes, after Saad Natiq brought down Hassan Muath in the box, Abed drilled home a powerful equaliser from the spot.
And there was more to come after Abed won another penalty which he converted in the 87th minute to hand the Saudis their second win in two third-round matches so far.
It takes Abed’s tally to three late penalties in Saudi’s two games after he hit the 84th-minute winner from the spot in last week’s 1-0 victory over Thailand.
The result badly dents Iraq’s chances of winning one of the two automatic berths for Russia 2018 from the six-team Group B, after they lost last week’s opener 2-0 to Australia.
Australia 1, UAE 0
In Abu Dhabi, Tim Cahill came off the bench to score with only his second touch as Australia edged the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in 2018 World Cup qualifying.
The 36-year-old, who replaced Tomi Juric in the 71st minute at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, took only four minutes to ensure Australia’s second win in five days in Group B of Asian qualifying.
The goal came when a fine build-up saw Brad Smith freed on the left flank and the Bournemouth winger whipped an excellent ball into the area for Cahill to convert.
The result followed a 2-0 home triumph over Iraq last Thursday and gives Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos a solid foundation to stay on course for yet another appearance in the World Cup.
They are level with Saudi Arabia at the top of the group with a maximum six points.
Cahill, a battle-hardened veteran who has featured in over 90 matches for Australia, didn’t hesitate to talk himself up after the match.
“It was my second touch! First one was off my chest. I want teams to be fearful of me when I come on. I’ve earned that respect over the last 10 years and I’m going to really push as hard as I can,” he said.
“This result, every time we put on the jersey it means so much. I’m so happy for the points because it means so much to our country.”
The match, played in the extreme heat of the Emirati desert, featured a drinks break to give respite to the players, and the tempo did not pick up until the second half. Australia were denied by the bar early in the second half when Aaron Mooy’s thundering shot off a Smith pass beat UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa but bounced back off the woodwork.
A minute later, it was the Aussie goal which survived a scare when the busy Ismail al-Hammadi broke down the left flank to deliver the ball to Ali Mabkhout but his half-volley went high and wide.
Essa was the star performer for the UAE, pulling off a handful of good saves during the course of the match before Cahill’s effort ruined the game for him and the UAE, who had upset Japan last week.
Syria 1, S. Korea 1
In Seremban, Malaysia, South Korea hit a speed bump in their bid to reach a 10th World Cup as they were held to a goalless draw against a Syrian side that is unable to play at home due to the country’s long-running, bloody conflict.
The frustrated South Koreans dominated possession during the match held in the Malaysian city of Seremban but largely failed to threaten the Syrian goal.
In their best chance, midfielder Lee Chung-Yong was denied thanks to a fine save by the Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma early in the second half.
The frantic Koreans stepped up the pressure in the final 20 minutes, but Syria defended in numbers to secure the draw despite playing eight minutes of extra time after a number of Syrian injuries during the night.
In all, South Korea peppered Syria with 14 shots but just two of them were on target, compared to seven Syrian shots overall, four of them on target. The Koreans also had 12 corner kicks to just one for Syria.
South Korea, who dispatched China 3-2 last week, were expected to notch an easy win against Syria, who lost 1-0 to Uzbekistan in their previous match.
With the Syrians unable to play at home, the match was shifted to Malaysia last week after the collapse of talks that would have seen the Chinese territory of Macau play host.
China 0, Iran 0
In Shenyang, China held heavyweights Iran to a gritty 0-0 draw to lift their hopes of reaching just their second World Cup in Asian qualifying.
Asia’s sleeping giants lacked ambition in the first half but they went for broke in the second in a performance that was good enough to earn their first point of the third round.
China have only ever reached one World Cup, in 2002, but qualifying for Russia 2018 would be a significant statement for a country which aims to become a global football power.
There were encouraging signs in last week’s 3-2 defeat to South Korea, and Iran, Asia’s top-ranked side, would have held few fears for Gao Hongbo’s men in front of a partisan, red-shirted home crowd.
However, a dire first half was more notable for its fouls than its goalmouth action as both sides struggled to gain momentum on a poor pitch in Shenyang.
Chinese goalkeeper Zeng Cheng and Iranian defender Pejman Montazeri both left the field after separate clashes as the two teams tried to impose themselves physically.
Masoud Shojaei dragged Iran’s best chance wide and Zhang Yuning’s ambitious effort on the turn was China’s nearest sight of goal in the first 45 minutes.
But China attacked with renewed intent after the break and it was a different spectacle in the second half as the game opened up.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh should have netted for Iraq but he blazed a glorious chance over, while Zhang was denied by Morteza Pouraliganji’s desperate block.
Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand smothered at the feet of Wu Lei and Chinese substitute ‘keeper Gu Chao also saved sharply in the final minute to ensure China’s first point of Group A.
Defeat to Carlos Queiroz’s team would have slashed China’s odds of reaching the World Cup but they will now tackle their remaining eight games with renewed confidence.