Football

Japan ride their luck as Qatar hit six past N. Korea

Genki Haraguchi smashed home a controversial penalty as former champions Japan scraped a 1-0 win over Oman to book their place in the last 16 of the Asian Cup yesterday.

ASIAN CUP, GROUP F
OMAN JAPAN
0 1
  (Genki Haraguchi 28-pen)

Japan, who have scooped Asian football's biggest prize on four occasions, enjoyed their share of good fortune against Oman in Abu Dhabi.

Haraguchi clipped the crossbar after just two minutes before Takumi Minamino fluffed a handful of golden opportunities.

That profligacy almost came back to haunt the Samurai Blue as Oman flooded forward and Muhsen Al-Ghassani shaved the post from an acute angle.

But Haraguchi settled Japan's nerves in the 28th minute, converting from the spot after he had appeared to go down easily under minimal contact from Oman captain Ahmed Al-Mahaijri.

Oman had extra reason to feel aggrieved when their own penalty claims were waved away just before half-time after Yuto Nagatomo looked to have handled a Salaah Al-Yahyaei drive.

Japan reached the knockout stages of last year's World Cup but they squeaked past Turkmenistan 3-2 in their opening Group F game and were poor against Oman, who almost equalised when Raed Saleh's acrobatic late volley flashed wide.

But the Japanese remain unbeaten in seven matches since Hajime Moriyasu took charge after the World Cup and have now lost just one of their last 30 games at the Asian Cup, excluding penalty shootouts.

QATAR WIN 6-0

In an earlier Group E match, Almoez Ali scored a record-equalling four goals but barely raised a cheer as Qatar hammered North Korea 6-0 in a United Arab Emirates stadium that was virtually empty due to the Gulf blockade.

The Sudanese-born striker fired Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, into the Asian Cup knockout phase as he became only the fourth player to score four goals in a single game at the tournament.

But there was little excitement in Al Ain's 16,000-seat Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium, as Qataris are generally barred from UAE - one of several countries that has slashed links with Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism.

With the North Korean public also forbidden to travel, the crowd was always going to be small. An estimated 300 people watched the game, including two groups of North Korean fans equipped with flags and occasionally cheering in unison.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said his team had steeled themselves toplay without their fans.

"We don't have our supporters here but we know that they're supporting from Qatar," he said. - AFP

Football