Mon, 30 Nov, -0001
Muscat: Amjed Kalaf’s goal six minutes from time took Iraq through to the semi-finals of the AFC U-22 Championship after they secured a 1-0 victory over Japan at Seeb Sports Complex on Monday.
Hakeem Shakir’s 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-finalists maintained their 100% record in the tournament with Kalaf’s deserved late winner coming in a contest which Iraq controlled for large periods against a Japan side who struggled to create chances.
Right winger Kalaf had already gone close on a number of occasions but he finally beat Masatoshi Kushibiki in the Japan goal on 84 minutes after beating defence and goalkeeper for pace before rolling a shot into the bottom corner to set-up Iraq’s semi-final with Korea Republic at Seeb Sports Complex on Thursday.
“I am happy to be in the semi-finals. My team was not as good at the beginning of this tournament and I think Japan were favourites in this game, but today Iraq was very good,” said Iraq coach Shakir.
“We got great support from the Omani people at this game and they’ve been very hospitable to us throughout the tournament; they have supported us no matter which opponent we are facing.
“But this is not the best of this team, you will see much from us in the semi-final.”
Iraq were on top from the onset and on nine minutes nearly carved out an opening through Marwan Al Ajeeli as the striker’s low 20-yard shot smacked against the foot of Kushibiki’s right-hand post with the Japan custodian beaten.
Iraq then went close through Mohanad Abdulraheem but the striker was unable to direct his header on target, and with four minutes remaining before the half time break, he turned provider to play Kalaf into the box although the wide man could only put his shot into the side-netting.
In the final chance of the half, Japan nearly scored against the run of play as Shinya Yajima slipped in Musashi Suzuki but the striker snatched at his shot and blasted over the crossbar.
Iraq began the second half as they had the first, enjoying plenty of possession and showing attacking intent, and just six minutes in Kalaf worked himself space for a shot that flew narrowly wide.
But a little over 10 minutes later, Japan had their first chance through Shoya Nakajima as the diminutive midfielder saw his strike from distance fly just the wrong side of Jalal Hassan’s right-hand post.
Kalaf then nearly capitalised on an error by left-back Ryosuke Yamanaka, but with options in the area, he chose to shoot from an acute angle with a wayward drive into the side-netting.
On 72 minutes Mahdi Kamil curled a shot on goal from distance but Kushibiki was alert to the danger and saved low to his left, pushing the ball around the post.
Further chances followed for first Nakajima and then Dhurgham Dawood at either end of the pitch, but the game remained goalless as both players failed to hit the target.
But with six minutes remaining, Kalaf turned on the afterburners to race past the Japan defence and the committed Kushibiki before he slid the ball past the stretching goalkeeper to end the deadlock and cue fervent celebrations on the Iraq bench.
“We knew that Iraq had won all three games in the group stage and had a powerful attack, so our aim was to keep out their forwards in the first half. I felt we did that and after the first 20 minutes we came back into it the game,” said Japan coach Makoto Teguramori.
“I was sure the game would be decided in 90 minutes, even towards the end, and I think the Iraq coach did too. I thought the ball might fall our way, but it fell to Iraq instead.
“I’m upset that I haven’t been able to meet the expectations of the Japanese fans, but it’s been a great experience for my squad and me to play against a strong team like Iraq with an experienced manager in Hakeem Shakir.”