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Syria's super-subs live up to Hakeem's expectations 

Bangkok: Ayman Hakeem hailed the influence of his substitutes as Syria handed Japan a last-gasp 2-1 defeat on Sunday that knocked the former champions out of the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 and kept alive the West Asian nation's hopes of a place in the knockout rounds.

Ala’a Aldin Dali came off the bench for the second game in a row to score a decisive goal for Hakeem’s side, netting the winner against Japan three days after scoring a late equaliser against Qatar in Syria’s opening game in Group B.

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Dali’s strike earned Syria all three points and moves Hakeem’s side onto four from their first two games and level with Saudi Arabia with one round of matches remaining.

But, just as importantly, Syria’s win means Japan are out of the tournament after back-to-back defeats having previously lost to Saudi Arabia in their opening game to leave Hajime Moriyasu’s side with nothing to play for but pride against Qatar on Wednesday.

#AFCU23 - MD2 Group C: Syria 2-1 Japan

“Each match has its own strategy and I can’t put all of my cards on the field,” said Syria head coach Hakeem. “I must have good substitutes and all the players were responsible and played well. We studied our opponents and we left our favourite cards for the final minutes.

“Japan are such a big team and we couldn’t risk all of our cards, so we made them attack us and then, in the last 30 minutes when we thought they were tired, we made our substitutions and we played on the counterattack and we scored from one of these attacks.”

Syria had taken the lead early in the game when Abdul Rahman Bakaran scored from the penalty spot, but Yuki Soma levelled the scores for the Japanese on the half hour mark when he fired a low shot into the bottom corner of the Syrian goal.

The game looked to be headed for a draw after Ayase Ueda missed a gilt-edged chance for Japan seven minutes from time only for Dali’s goal on the break to turn the match on its head and send Japan, who won this title in 2016, crashing out of the competition.

“For the players and all the staff, this was a disappointing result, also for those who supported us in the stadium and on TV,” said Moriyasu, whose side have already qualified for the Olympic Games later this year as hosts.

“For us, the goal was to play six matches here so that the players can learn about playing in tough matches and to use that for our development ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. It’s disappointing we can only play three matches.”

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