Mon, 30 Nov, -0001
Muscat: Japan and Kuwait played out a 0-0 draw in the AFC U-22 Championship on Tuesday at Royal Police Stadium, which left the qualification picture Group C finely balanced.
Both sides were inches away from taking the lead in the second half with Japan midfielder Riki Harakawa and then Kuwait substitute Faisal Al Harbi hitting the woodwork with long range efforts.
Japan’s coach Makoto Teguramori made seven changes to the side that drew 3-3 with Iran in their Group C opener and the upheaval showed with an uneven performance from the young Samurai Blue with Kuwait the happier team at the conclusion.
Japan must now beat group winners Australia who earlier in the day defeated Iran 1-0 to be sure of a place in the last eight, while Kuwait face fellow winless side Iran with both sides also still in the qualification picture.
“We are not satisfied with our performance. We had two aims out of this match: one to change some players, two was to win. We achieved the first but not the second,” said Japan coach Teguramori.
“We wanted more players to experience the tournament and use the players in the best conditions and those who were fresh. However, changing the players meant we struggled to break down the Kuwait defence.
“On the positive side, after conceding three goals in the last match, we kept a clean sheet this time, so I’m satisfied by the defence.”
The first chance of note came on 14 minutes as Japan wide-man Shinya Yajima stroked a pass into the feet of Takuma Arano and the forward’s low shot from the edge of the penalty area was deflected onto the post, with a wrong-footed Sulaiman Abdulghafoor rooted to his goalline.
Yajima was again involved just four minutes later as his low shot from Takeshi Kanamori’s left wing cross was saved by the outstretched legs of Abdulghafoor.
Kuwait then lost two players in 10 minutes as first Zaben Al Enezi was stretchered off to be replaced by Faisal Al Harbi and then the busy Ahmad Al Dhafiri took a knock and limped off the field with Omar Al Hebaiter entering the fray.
Despite those setbacks, Kuwait began to control the first period and on the half-hour mark some miscommunication between Naomichi Ueda and goalkeeper Masatoshi Kushibiki almost let in Yousif Al Rashidi but the forward was unable to poke the ball past the Japanese custodian, who belatedly smothered the ball.
And with three minutes to go before half-time, Al Harbi displayed his dead ball expertise with an inviting free-kick to the back post that was met by a sliding Khaled Ebrahim who forced Kushibiki into an athletic save to tip over the crossbar.
The second half started at a furious rate of knots as first Al Hebaiter was inches from connecting with Sultan Al Enezi’s cross from the left two minutes in before half-time substitute Harakawa battered the crossbar with a crisp 20-yard volley a minute later.
And with just six minutes of the half played, Al Harbi again showed his uncanny accuracy from set pieces with a free-kick from wide on the right of the penalty area that hit the angle of post and bar, with midfielder Hamad Al Harbi unable to turn the ball in with the Japan goal gaping.
With playmaker Shoya Nakajima taking the field just after the hour mark, Japan began to take control of the game with the diminutive midfielder the hub for much of his team’s good work, turning up on both flanks of the field as well as in the central areas, clearly given a license to roam by coach Teguramori.
But in Al Harbi, Kuwait always posed a threat, and the midfielder broke free in a rare Kuwait attack with 10 minutes remaining and crossed for Al Hebaiter whose first time volley rocketed wide of Kushibiki’s left-hand post.
With five minutes remaining the irrepressible Nakajima again managed to cause consternation in the Kuwait backline and fired a shot low to the near post that a sprawling Abdulghafoor blocked.
However, for all of Nakajima’s trickery and some concentrated Japan possession, the pre-tournament favourites were unable to make a breakthrough and had to settle for a share of the spoils again.
“If we a comparing the performance of my team to the last game, it’s like red and white. My players have played fantastically, so much better, I was very proud of my boys,” said Kuwait coach Jorvan Vieira.
“Japan played the same way as they did in the last match, which helped me a lot. Even though they changed their players completely, their strategy was still the same, so I didn’t have to alter our strategies.
“I have say bravo to my players; they honoured their flag and the shirt they played in.”