UAE shock Japan 2-1 to get World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign off to winning start
JAPAN: Honda 11’
UAE: Khalil 20’, 54’ (pen)
Man of the match — Ahmed Khalil (UAE)
SAITAMA, JAPAN // The UAE began the third and final qualification stage for the 2018 World Cup with a remarkable 2-1 victory against Japan at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Thursday.
The hosts, aiming to kick-start their Group B campaign with a victory, took an early lead when an unmarked Keisuke Honda nodded home a Hiroshi Kiyotake free kick on 11 minutes.
Japan settled into their rhythm much quicker than the UAE, however the visitors levelled the scores in the 20th minute. Ahmed Khalil, the Asian Player of the Year, curled a free kick from 25 yards that
Nishikawa Shusaku, the Japan goalkeeper, could only tip into the top corner. It was Khalil’s 12th goal in nine 2018 World Cup qualification matches.
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Visibly buoyed by the goal, the UAE grew in confidence, yet were almost behind again six minutes later, when Honda’s close-range header was palmed out by goalkeeper Khalid Essa. Shinji Kagawa, the Borussia Dortmund playmaker, scuffed the rebound just wide of the UAE post. At the other end, Ali Mabkhout tested Shusaku moments before half time.
The UAE were in front nine minutes after the break, though, when Kagawa tripped Ismail Al Hammadi in the area and Khalil coolly chipped home his penalty. The Panenka no doubt cast the mind back to Omar Abdulrahman’s shoot-out spot-kick at last year’s Asian Cup, the most recent meeting between the two teams.
Japan immediately rebounded, first when Kiyotake somehow failed to connect with a low cross and then when Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki struck the crossbar with a header. Japan should have had an equaliser in the 77th minute, but the officials failed to see substitute Asano Takuma’s effort had crossed the line before Essa pawed the ball away from behind his line.
The UAE somehow hung on despite sustained Japanese pressure to record what will soon be regarded one of the greatest results in their recent history. They next face Australia, the reigning Asian champions, in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, while Japan travel to Thailand.
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Updated: September 1, 2016 04:00 AM