Japan beat Uzbekistan, book ticket to South Africa


Japan clinched a berth in next year’s FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan, thanks to Shinji Okazaki’s early goal on Saturday night.

But the Asian final-round qualifier ended on a sour note when both Japan midfielder Makoto Hasebe and Japan coach Takeshi Okada were red-carded shortly before the final whistle.
Japan and Australia – who also qualified following a 0-0 draw against Qatar – top Group A with 14 points each, seven more than third-placed Bahrain. Japan, Australia and Bahrain have two matches remaining, while Uzbekistan and Qatar (both on four points) have one.
Japan will make their fourth straight appearance in the finals of the quadrennial tournament.
“Our players showed their strong mentality and worked hard to the very end. I’m grateful to them,” a jubilant Japan coach Takeshi Okada said.
Playing before a crowd of 34,000 at Pakhtakor Stadium, Japan took the lead in the ninth minute when Okazaki latched on to a lobbed pass from Kengo Nakamura. The Shimizu S-Pulse attacker outpaced two defenders and shot well, but Uzbekistan goalkeeper Hamza Karimov parried the shot. However, the ball flew straight back to Okazaki who headed in from close range.
In the 13th minute, midfielder Yasuhito Endo hit the post with a free-kick, but the visitors faced a fierce response from the Uzbeks, who needed the win to boost their chances of finishing third in the group and qualifying through the playoffs.
The hosts attacked hard with efforts from forwards Alexander Geynrikh and Farhod Tadjiyev, and midfielder Server Djeparov. Defenders Ilhomjon Suyunov and Jasur Hasanov often came forward to threaten the Japanese goal with mid-range shots.
Djeparov had a good header in the 27th minute while midfielder Timur Kapadze had a close-range effort shortly before the break. But Urawa Reds defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka and defensive midfielder Makoto Hasebe were on hand to clear the danger.
The Central Asians put Japan under pressure again after the break, particularly in the last half-hour. But Japan goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki, Hasebe and the central defensive pairing of Yuji Nakazawa and Tulio defended well to fend off the attacks.
Djeparov hit the woodwork from a corner in the 81st minute, while defender Islom Tuhtahujaev’s mid-range effort was tipped against the bar by Narazaki in the 91st minute.
Hasebe was sent off by referee Muhsen Basma a minute from time, allegedly for elbowing Djeparov. Okada followed soon after, apparently for protesting the decision of the Syrian ref.
“We knew it would be a tough game and it was,” said Okada. “They didn’t let us play our brand of football and we couldn’t find our rhythm, but I don’t see any problem in how we approached the game.”
However, the coach added: “I think a guardian angel was smiling on us.”
Commenting on his red card, Okada explained: “I was told to leave the bench for the first time in my coaching career. I was just telling Hasebe to leave the pitch quickly, but the ref misunderstood. But I wasn’t worried as I knew our players would win.”
“The players kept their cool and were strong in one-on-one situations, which helped us a lot.”
“Having qualified for the World Cup, we can now move on to make our challenge there,” said Okada, who was manager of Japan when they first qualified for the World Cup in 1998. “I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
“We’d like to use the remaining two matches to strengthen our team,” said the Japanese coach, adding that he would put out his strongest available lineup in those games.
Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov commented: “I’d like to congratulate Japan on their World Cup qualification. It was a game we couldn’t afford to lose. We were hoping to score first, but we made a mistake and their opening goal forced us to change our game plan.”
Uzbekistan will now be hoping Australia beat Bahrain on Wednesday before they face Bahrain in their final match on June 17.
Japan will next host Qatar at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Wednesday and then play Australia in Melbourne on June 17.

Japan—Seigo Narazaki, Yuji Nakazawa, Yuichi Komano, Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Okazaki, Shunsuke Nakamura (Yuki Abe, 90th), Kengo Nakamura (Keisuke Honda, 66th), Yuto Nagatomo, Yoshito Okubo (Kisho Yano, 69th), Makoto Hasebe. Coach, Takeshi Okada
Uzbekistan—Hamza Karimov, Ilhomjon Suyunov (Sakhob Jurayev, 83rd), Islom Tuhtahujaev, Anzur Ismailov, Jasur Hasanov, Server Djaparov, Farhod Tadjiyev (Anvarjon Soliev, 61st), Ignatiy Nesterov, Alexander Geynrikh (Shakhboz Erkinov 75th), Timur Kapadze. Coach, Mirdjalal Kasimov.
Goal—Shinji Okazaki (9th min) for Japan
Cautions—Shunsuke Nakamura (Japan), Yuto Nagatomo (Japan), Yasuhito Endo (Japan), Alexander Geynrikh (Uzbekistan)
Expulsion—Makoto Hasebe (Japan)
Referee—Muhsen Basma (Syria)