Japan march on despite not hitting top form
Samurai Blue see off wasteful Saudis 1-0
Takehiro Tomiyasu's header sent Saudi Arabia crashing out of the Asian Cup as Japan beat the three-time champions 1-0 to reach the quarter-finals yesterday.
Tomiyasu's first-half header at the Sharjah Stadium in the United Arab Emirates was the only goal of a last-16 tie between two teams with a combined seven titles that failed to live up to its billing.
Japan, record four-time winners of the Asian Cup, march on to a quarter-final with South-east Asian champions Vietnam, despite not yet hitting top form at the tournament.
Saudi Arabia were in the ascendancy early on, but it was Japan who snatched the advantage on 20 minutes.
From a corner, Belgium-based defender Tomiyasu climbed above his marker and nodded firmly into the bottom corner for his first of the tournament.
The Saudis twice came close with headers as they strived for a way back, and Hatan Bahbri curled a shot just off-target as he went for the top corner.
Newcastle United striker Yoshinori Muto's shot was blocked on the hour-mark but most of the chances were falling to Saudi Arabia, who will rue some wasteful finishing.
Midfielder Salem Aldawsari had a golden opportunity to put the Green Falcons level in the 62nd minute but sprayed the ball over the bar with a right-footed shot from the centre of the box.
Moments later, defender Ali Al-Bulaihi guided the ball well over the bar with a free header after an inviting Aldawsari cross into the penalty area.
Despite a late flurry, it remained another goalless outing for the Saudis, who haven't found the net since scoring six goals in their first two group games.
The defeat extends the Green Falcons' 23-year Asian Cup drought.
For the Samurai Blue, the win could be a good omen for their title aspirations. The last two times Japan beat the Saudis in the knockout stages in 1992 and 2002 (both 1-0), they went on to lift the title. - AFP, REUTERS