Group B - MD1: Japan 1-2 Saudi Arabia
Bangkok: Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s late penalty earned Saudi Arabia all three points on Thursday as Saad Al Shehri’s side defeated Japan 2-1 in the nations’ opening Group B clash in the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 at Thammasat Stadium.
Ghareeb converted from the spot two minutes from time after referee Chris Beath confirmed via the Video Assistant Referee that Makoto Okazaki had fouled Feras Al Brikan and the Al Ahli striker made no mistake from the spot.
The game had looked destined to end in a draw after Ayman Al Khulaif had seen his 48th minute opener for Saudi Arabia cancelled out by Ryotaro Meshino nine minutes later.
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The Japanese had dominated the opening 45 minutes with their slick passing, with central midfield duo Ao Tanaka and Shunta Tanaka allowing Haime Moriyasu’s team to control proceedings for much of the half.
But for all of Japan’s possession, it was the Saudis who fashioned the best opportunities as their ability to break quickly ensured the Japanese defence always had to be on their toes.
Mukhtar Ali’s quick feet almost saw him open the scoring seven minutes into the game when he evaded the attentions of Ao Tanaka before firing wide form 25 yards. Two minutes later Abdullah Al Hamdan went closer still, forcing goalkeeper Keisuke Osako into action.
The Japanese keeper was on hand again just before the half hour mark with an outstanding save to deny Ghareeb, palming the ball over the bar after the Saudi striker looked set to put his team in front.
Three minutes after the restart, Saudi Arabia took the lead when the Japanese defence had no answer for the driving run of Ghareeb and that hesitancy allowed Al Khulaif to fire off an instinctive first-time shot that beat Osako low and to his right.
Their advantage, however, was to last only eight minutes as Meshino saw his shot take a deflection off Hassan Al Tambakti that wrong-footed goalkeeper Mohammed Al Yami, leaving the Japanese striker screaming with delight.
That joy was to turn to agony for Japan in the dying minutes, however, as miscommunication between Okazaki and Osako allowed Al Brikan to bear down on goal, and Okazaki’s subsequent foul set up Ghareeb to claim all three points for the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia will aim for another three points against Qatar on Sunday while Japan will have to bounce back against Syria to keep their dreams alive.
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