SHARJAH: Japan stayed on track for a record-extending fifth title after defeating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in their AFC Asian Cup second round tie at the Sharjah Stadium.
Defender Takehiro Tomiyasu’s powerful 20th-minute header set up an encounter with Vietnam, who beat Jordan on penalties, in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
In other matches Ahmed Khalil came to UAE’s rescue as the home side defeated debutants Kyrgyz Republic 3-2 in extra-time and quarterfinal clash with holders Australia who had goalkeeper Mat Ryan to thanks as they defeated Uzbekistan 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
Three-time champions Saudi Arabia dominated the early stages of their second round clash against Japan but Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men could not find a way past the resolute Japanese defence.
Saudi Arabia wasted no time hitting their stride groove as Mohammed Al Fatil headed wide from a set-piece.
Japan came close six minutes later with Ritsu Doan finding space in the danger area after collecting Takumi Minamino’s pass but saw his effort blocked by the Saudi defence.
Pizzi’s men increased their pace and could have gone in front in the 15th minute but Abdulaziz Al-Bishi and Hussain Almoqahwi squandered their chances.
Japan, having played mostly on the counter, upped their tempo and were rewarded with the opening goal in the 20th minute as Tomiyasu rose the highest to nod the ball home, his first goal for the Samurai Blue.
Stunned, Saudi Arabia took charge of possession but found the Maya Yoshida-marshalled Japanese defence impossible to breach.
With five minutes left in the half, Saudi had their best chance at goal when Hatan Bahebri muscled his way into the box, but his curling shot flew past the right post, as Japan stayed ahead going into the break.
The first half statistics had Saudi Arabia controlling 70 percent of possession and the West Asians maintained their stranglehold on the match in the second half, almost finding the equaliser through Salem Al Dawsari but Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda was equal to the effort.
Japan responded a minute later, Yoshida connecting with a header from Shibasaki’s delivery but Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais collected it safely.
Saudi Arabia continued to dominate possession but could not convert their chances with Salem Al Dawsari and Bahebri both failing to find the target.
The Green Falcons had another opportunity in the 73rd minute when Abdullah Otayf found Almoqahwi lurking in the box but the midfielder sent his header high above the bar as Japan soaked up the pressure to seal their quarter-final spot.