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Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007

Japan survives late to beat Qatar


Staff writer

An early header from Yohei Kajiyama proved enough as Japan's Under-22s survived Takuya Honda's second half sending off to beat Qatar 1-0 in their Beijing Olympics' Asian final qualifying round match on Wednesday evening.

News photo
Japan's Aya Miyama, celebrates her last-minute goal with teammate Rumi Utsugi during their Women's World Cup Group A match against England on Tuesday in Shanghai. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. AP PHOTO

FC Tokyo midfielder Kajiyama's goal on six minutes in a first half Japan dominated separated the two sides at Tokyo's National Stadium and moved Yasuharu Sorimachi's men above Qatar to the top of Group C with seven points from three games, but it was touch-and-go for awhile as their opponents pushed for an equalizer late in the game.

Only the winner of the four-team group that also includes Saudi Arabia and Vietnam advances to Beijing. Japan next plays Qatar in Doha on Oct. 17 before rounding off its qualifiers a month later with games against Vietnam in Hanoi and the Saudis at home.

"We went one man down but we passed the ball with a lot of spirit until the end," Sorimachi said. "We've got 270 minutes (three games) left in the qualifiers and we have to stay focused and make sure we qualify."

Koki Mizuno gave notice to the 23,163 present of his intent to dominate the proceedings on the right during the first period by conjuring Japan's opener. The JEF United Chiba midfielder swung in an enormously deep cross from the right that hung in the air until Kajiyama met it with brave conviction.

The goal set the tone for a first half fairly dominated by the hosts. Their game plan was to be economical with unnecessary running. The Japanese players' precise passing was proving easy on the eye for fans and the legs of the players. But the Qataris were reduced on occasion to chasing shadows.

Ultimately, though, clear-cut chances for Japan were still hard to come by. Mizuno skidded a free-kick past an upright with a quarter-hour gone. A little later, he popped up deep on the right, his trickery allowing him to attack the byline and cross. Alas, no one was there to do the honors.

That was not to say Japan's lone forward was not earning his keep. Big man Yasuhito Morishima — all shaggy mane, banana-colored boots, untucked shirt and flailing arms — was causing consternation in the Qatar backline. Indeed, the Cerezo Osaka striker should have scored just past the half-hour mark, but his diving header was well blocked by 'keeper Rajab Hamza.

The fans picked up on his hustle and Morishima chants were bandied about throughout the half. The crowd piped down a touch at the start of the second half, though, as the Qataris ventured into their opponent's half with a little more conviction than before.

It didn't last long, though. Mizuno picked up the pace and went close with a grass-cutter from the edge of the area, then Morishima twisted and turned before firing into the arms of Hamza. With renewed gusto, the Morishima chants were aired once more.

The one-goal lead was still vulnerable, though, to the counter-attack and Qatar nearly equalized just after the hour mark, but despite a penalty box scramble with bodies flying everywhere the final touch couldn't be applied. Qatari players all over the pitch flung themselves to the ground in mock agony. Maybe it wasn't going to be their day.

But then referee Ben Williams threw the Qataris a lifeline; the Australian sending off Honda for a second bookable offense after the Hosei University midfielder encroached on a Qatar free-kick.

Qatar was now in the ascendancy and with 10 minutes to go had a golden chance to draw level, but Japan 'keeper Kaito Yamamoto was alert when needed and with his legs brilliantly saved Ali Hassan's close range shot.

Japan held on — just — for a deserved victory.

Miyama saves Japan

SHANGHAI (Kyodo) Aya Miyama scored a dramatic equalizer with the last kick of the match to give Japan a 2-2 draw with England in a Group A match at the Women's World Cup in China on Tuesday.

The Japanese midfielder fired home a 30-meter free kick shortly after veteran striker Kelly Smith had scored twice late in the second half to put England ahead 2-1.

Miyama had earlier given Japan the lead with another long-range free kick in the 55th minute that she drilled over the England wall.

"After taking a 1-0 lead, my players couldn't move the ball around and just stayed back," said Japan coach Hiroshi Ohashi, whose team held out against a barrage of England attacks until Smith finally broke the resistance.

"But this one point for the draw definitely left us in a better position," he said.

It was Japan's first ever point against European opposition at a World Cup.



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