Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Australia 1 - Japan 1; Oman 1 - Iraq 0

With a home draw against Australia in Saitama, the Samurai Blue would become the first team to join the host nation at Brasil 2014.  The first half featured good defense and lots of shots, leaving one to wonder to where the midfield had disappeared.  It was as if the game were constantly being played in the final third on either end.  Japan missed an early chance when a Maya Yoshida was unable to score on a free header from a corner kick.  A nice interplay between Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki, and Shinji Kagawa (pictured, right) picked apart the Socceroos on one occasion, but goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer preserved his clean sheet with the palm of his outstretched hand to deny Kagawa.  Australia defender Sasa Ognenovski provided a crucial block on another good scoring occasion for Japan.  Australia nearly scored themselves, but Robbie Kruse (pictured, yellow) was denied by a classy save by goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.  The scintillating first half ended with a 0-0 scoreline.

Japan enjoyed the most dominant stretch either team had during the match in the opening twenty minutes of the second period.  Australia were simply left absorbing pressure as Japan took the first five shots of the second half.  In fact, on chip by Shinji Kagawa from a tight angle landed on the point of the crossbar on its way out of bounds.  Eventually, Australia reawakened.  Luke Wilshire laid a ball back across the box after a right up the right side, and Tim Cahill set up for the one-time finish, but Yoshida made a sliding block to save Japan.  Schwarzer again was called into action when a fast run up the left side by fullback Yuto Nagatomo forced Schwarzer into a diving stop.  With under ten minutes to go in the match, Australia found the opener.  A Tommy Oar attempted cross took a strange flight path that caused the ball to float into the side netting from a very tight angle, stunning the crowd and reviving Australia's hopes of direct qualification.  Australia nearly made it through, but a lack of focus from Matt McKay led to his being called for a handball in the box.  Honda stepped up and drove the ball straight and down the middle on the penalty kick to drive Japan straight to Brasil 2014.  With the 1-1 draw, Japan are the first team to qualify for the final stage of the tournament.

Iraq paid a visit to Muscat hoping for a win that would see them leapfrog from fifth into second place, but hosts Oman were keen on pulling the same feat, albeit out of fourth position.  Muscat was so steamy and toasty today that water breaks were provided, a practice used in every match at the 2012 OFC Nations Cup but rarely used elsewhere.  The first thirty minutes looked as though the teams were playing in oppressive conditions as no attacks were mounted.  Oman shook off the doldrums first and were rewarded with a goal in first-half stoppage time.  A Saad al Mukhaini corner was close enough to tempt Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri off his line.  Ismail Al Ajmi leapt to head the ball over Sabri and into the vacated net, where Humam Tariq's last-ditch clearance effort off the line failed.  Oman led 1-0 at intermission.

Abdul Al Mukhaini nearly provided a second goal to Oman with his speedy run out of his own half circle led to a three-on-two break for the Omanis, and his through ball to Al Ajmi was spot on, but Sabri was able to save the shot on this occasion.  Oman continued to be the more attacking side for the duration of the match, as Iraq provided little to thwart their efforts as Oman turned in a strong defensive performance led by Raed Saleh.  Oman win 1-0 and move into sole possession of second place in Group Two.

Japan 14 pts IN
Oman 9 pts -2
Australia 7 pts 0
Jordan 7 pts -6
Iraq 5 pts -2

Tommy Oar 82

Keisuke Honda 90+1 PK

Ismail Al Ajmi 45+3

Match Reports

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zpAbUxdQxI (Australia v. Japan)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7PoviiJca8 (Oman v. Iraq)

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