Mon, 30 Nov, -0001
Muscat: Shoya Nakajima scored twice and contributed an assist as Japan emphatically confirmed a mouthwatering AFC U-22 Championship quarter-final with Iraq following a 4-0 win over Group C winners Australia at Royal Oman Police Stadium on Thursday.
Nakajima opened the scoring after 18 minutes following an error from Australia goalkeeper Jack Duncan before the diminutive midfielder set-up the equally impressive Shinya Yajima to double Japan’s lead midway through the first half.
And after defender Corey Brown turned the ball into his own net on the stroke of half-time, Nakajima’s third goal of the campaign three minutes into the second half ensured unbeaten Japan a runner-up finish in Group C and a quarter-final meeting with Group D winners Iraq at Seeb Sports Complex on Monday.
Australia, meanwhile, must now re-group for their quarter-final with the runner-up from Group C at Royal Oman Police Stadium on Monday.
“Playing against Australia, who had already qualified with two wins and without conceding a goal, our motivation before the match was high and we were in the right state of mind compared to Australia,” said Japan coach Makoto Teguramori after seeing his side record a first win of the campaign following draws with Iran and Kuwait.
“It seemed to me what Australia wanted to do was to put an emphasis on keeping possession and we had planned countermeasures for this. Taking the ball back in defence and moving into counterattack was our idea and that gave us the chance to win the game.
“I have not watched Iraq’s games yet and I don’t know what to expect, but what I know is as we play more games our combination within the teams gets better. The link between the attack and the defence gets better, so what I am thinking is that if we play football like we did against Australia which is our characteristic, I think we can win.”
Australia coach Aurelio Vidmar stuck to his word and changed his entire line-up from Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Iran with his side already assured of a quarter-final berth following back-to-back wins, with opposite number Teguramori also freshening up his side with six new faces following their goalless draw with Kuwait last time out with Japan knowing victory would ensure qualification regardless of the result between Iran and Kuwait.
And it was Japan who enjoyed the best of the early exchanges as Yajima flashed an effort wide after just four minutes before only a perfectly timed last-ditch tackle by Australia captain Jason Geria denied Takuya Kida.
Australia were then presented with their first chance after 17 minutes as Japan goalkeeper Daichi Sugimoto failed to hold Stefan Mauk’s shot, but fortunately for the custodian when the rebound eventually found its way to Dylan Tombides, Naomichi Ueda was on hand to block the striker’s shot at the near post.
And Japan took full advantage a minute later as Australia goalkeeper Duncan allowed Nakajima’s low skimming shot from the edge of the area to squirm through his grasp.
Duncan, though, was left helpless just six minutes later as the diminutive Nakajima turned provider to double Japan’s lead as his pull-back was emphatically finished by Yajima.
And in the last minute of the first half Duncan could only watch as Ryosuke Yamanaka’s left wing cross was turned into his own net by Brown at the far post.
The fourth arrived just three minutes into the second half as Christopher Ikonomidis was adjudged to have handled as the midfielder attempted to block Yajima’s cross and Nakajima dispatched the resulting penalty.
Ikonomidis came close to making amends for his error with just over a quarter of an hour remaining, but after a slick Australia passage of play worked the ball across to the midfielder, Kyohei Yoshino’s sliding block halted any chance of retribution.
“It was again important for us to make changes to see that the players can play at this level. The first 20 minutes were OK and we had some good occasions, but after the early goal we really struggled. Japan made it difficult for us with the extra man in midfield and we found it difficult to play in the tight areas,” said Australia coach Vidmar.
“It was not the intention to take it easy. We had a discussion that even though the match had no bearing on the result we still wanted to play at a high level. It looked like some of the players were fatigued as a lot of these players don’t play a lot of football. They need to try and get through when it is difficult. No game at international level is easy and tonight was no exception.”