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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Listless Japan settles for draw

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Qatar rained on Japan's World Cup qualification parade with a second-half penalty to earn a 1-1 draw on Wednesday night.

News photo
Airborne: Daisuke Matsui attempts an overhead kick during Japan's World Cup qualifying match against Qatar at Yokohama International Stadium on Wednesday. Japan had already qualified for the 2010 World Cup before the 1-1 draw. KYODO PHOTO

Takeshi Okada's side booked its ticket to South Africa with a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan last Saturday in Tashkent, and an own goal from Qatar's Ahmed Ali Albinali in the second minute stoked the party atmosphere among the crowd of 60,256 at Yokohama International Stadium.

But a clumsy trip by Yuji Nakazawa on Magid Hassan eight minutes after the interval allowed Ali Yahya to pull one back from the penalty spot, giving the visitors a deserved point after creating the better chances against a lethargic Japan side.

The draw was not enough to save Qatar from World Cup elimination, leaving Bahrain and Uzbekistan to contest third place in the group.

Japan has no such qualification problems, but playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura left the field disappointed nonetheless.

"We had some new players coming into the side and I was hoping there would be more movement," he said.

"We didn't play with enough aggression and we were too passive after we scored. It was at home and we really wanted to win it, so it's disappointing to come away with this result."

Okada, who watched from the stands while serving a one-match ban for being sent off against Uzbekistan, was also despondent.

"We couldn't give the fans a good game," he said. "We couldn't get the best out of the players, so we'll have to learn from this and move on."

Yuki Abe and Hideo Hashimoto were handed starting berths in central midfield in place of the unavailable Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe, while Yasuyuki Konno came in for Yuto Nagatomo at left back. Keiji Tamada returned to the lineup alongside Shinji Okazaki and Nakamura in attack.

It did not take Nakamura long to start pulling the visitors' defense out of position, strafing a pass to Atsuto Uchida on the right to give the Kashima Antlers man space to aim for Okazaki waiting in the middle. Unfortunately for Qatar, Albinali got there first, turning the ball past a horrified Qasem Burhan to leave his side with a mountain to climb with just over a minute gone.

Majdi Siddiq spurned an excellent opportunity to reply when he headed wide unmarked at the back post in the 10th minute, and Yahya tested Seigo Narazaki's reflexes with a shot from a quickly taken free kick shortly after.

Yahya and Hassan had further efforts on goal as Qatar continued to put together dangerous attacks with Japan sleepwalking through the first half, but it was the home side that almost snatched a second goal minutes before the interval.

Marcus Tulio Tanaka headed in a rebound from a corner past Burhan, but referee Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh ruled it out for a Tamada handball.

Qatar redoubled its efforts after halftime, and it did not take long to get its reward. Fabio Montesin released Hassan with a neat pass from the middle and Nakazawa launched into a reckless tackle to leave the referee with little choice but to point to the spot.

Daisuke Matsui came off the bench after Yahya had dispatched the penalty for the equalizer, but the visitors pushed in search of the goal they needed to keep their qualification hopes alive and almost got it when Nakazawa gave away a sloppy backpass in dangerous territory.

Substitute Keisuke Honda found Okazaki with a cross that the striker could not quite direct on target with time running out for Japan to salvage a win, but there would be no late reprieve as Okada's side finished with its third draw in four qualifying matches at home.

Australia remains top

SYDNEY (AP) Mile Sterjovski and David Carney scored second-half goals as Australia beat Bahrain 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier Wednesday, denying the visitors their first chance at securing a playoff spot for 2010.

An understrength Australia made seven changes to the team that four days earlier secured a place at next year's World Cup with a scoreless draw at Qatar.

Bahrain must now avoid defeat at home in its final match against Uzbekistan next Wednesday if it is to keep third place in the group.

The third-place teams in both Asian qualifying groups will face off, with the winner advancing to a further playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand for a spot at the World Cup.

"We created enough chances to score more than two goals. Just not sharp enough in a few moments to finish it off," Australia coach Pim Verbeek said. "To win 2-0, we did everything we had to do."

Unbeaten Australia plays Japan in Melbourne next Wednesday in the last match of the round, which will determine the Group A winner.

Verbeek could have a stronger lineup available next week, with Everton midfielder Tim Cahill expected to recover from muscle soreness which sidelined him on Wednesday and West Ham defender Lucas Neill available after a match off for collecting two yellow cards in earlier qualifiers.

Verbeek said the pressure was off now that both teams had qualified for South Africa 2010 and he was expecting an entertaining match against Japan.

"Definitely we want to be No. 1 in the group," he said. "It'll be a fantastic game — let's win that one also."

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