Oman goes down fighting

January 14, 2019

Oman's goalkeeper Faiz al Rusheidi fails to stop the ball as Japan's Genki Haraguchi (unseen) scores a penalty kick during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Group F match in Abu Dhabi on Sunday (AFP)

Oman's Red Warriors fought till the final whistle and coupled with some stunning saves from goalkeeper Faiz al Rusheidi ensured that the four-time champions Japan just managed to eke out a 1-0 win in a Group F match of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 at the Zayed Sports Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

In a match that never rose above mediocrity, two contentious penalty decisions proved crucial. Genki Haraguchi scored the only goal off a controversial penalty kick after Raed Ibrahim was adjudged to have fouled him just before the half hour, while Yuto Nagatomo was lucky not to concede a spot-kick at the other end for handball by Malaysian referee Mohammed Amirul Izwan Yaacob just before the interval.

Raed Ibrahim conceded a penalty in the 28th minute for fouling Haraguchi, although replays suggested there was little contact.

Japan was lucky to go into the break ahead after defender Nagatomo appeared to block Salah al Yahyaei's late shot with his hands. The appeal from Oman players was turned down by the referee.

The win saw the Samurai Blue reach the knockout phase.

Japan's hard-fought victory saw Hajime Moriyasu’s charges record their second win of the campaign and guarantee them a place in the round-of-16 after Turkmenistan lost 0-4 to Uzbekistan in the group’s late game on Sunday.

The win also meant that White Wolves joined Japan in the knockout phase, following its second successive triumph.

Sunday’s victory also saw Japan – excluding penalty shootouts – extend its record of only losing once in its last 30 games at the Asian Cup finals since being beaten by Saudi Arabia in the 2007 semifinals.

Oman must now beat Turkmenistan in its final group stage fixture on January 17 to retain any hope of qualifying for the next round as one of the best third-place finishers.

Japan was quickly into its stride against Oman, Haraguchi diverting Ritsu Doan’s cross onto the bar from six yards inside the first two minutes.

Moments later, and with Japan in the ascendancy, Rusheidi was forced into a fine sprawling save when Takumi Minamino seemed destined to score, before Minamino then dragged a shot wide of the far post.

Oman duly responded by spurning a golden chance of its own on 20 minutes, Yahyaei finding Muhsen al Ghassani who rounded goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda but was unable to finish from a tight angle.

However, in what was proving to be an entertaining affair, Japan eventually broke the deadlock through Haraguchi's penalty as he slammed home past Rusheidi’s desperate dive.

With half-time approaching, Yahyaei’s fierce drive was diverted to safety by defender Nagatomo  despite an apparent handball inside the box.

In the post-interval session, chances were distinctly few and far between, with Saad Suhail’s effort on 70 minutes – which was comfortably gathered by Gonda – the first genuine attempt on goal after the interval.

An acrobatic Raed Ibrahim's attempt from a Saad Suhail's cross ten minutes later and Rusheidi’s last-gasp save from substitute Junya Ito proved to be the final goalmouth action on a day when Japan was made to fight all the way by its resilient West Asian opponent.

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We should have got the penalty: Verbeek

Oman coach Pim Verbeek refused to comment on Malaysian referee, Mohammed Amirul Izwan Yaacob, who officiated Sunday's Group F match between Red Warriors and Japan in Abu Dhabi.

However, the Dutchman was clear in his views that Oman deserved a penalty just ahead of the interval after Japan's Yuto Nagatomo's handball inside the box off a shot from Salah al Yahyaei.

Speaking after the match, Verbeek said, “We deserved to be awarded the spot kick. It was a clear handball. And the penalty against us was harsh as what I have seen on video.

“My players played very well in the second-half and to play at that level against one of Asia's best teams makes me happy. I am pleased with my boys' performance.”

The coach had words of praise for goalkeeper Faiz al Rusheidi, who was outstanding in the match.

“Faiz had a terrific game. He did not have the best against Uzbekistan and to come back strongly is very good sign for him. He had a very good match and it will help him a lot,” said the coach.

Verbeek said that the team will now prepare for the final league game against Turkmenistan and will look to pocket three points. “We have played well in both the matches and are confident of winning despite the negative results so far,” he said.