Japan rally past Yemen, qualify for 2011 Asian Cup
Japan secured a slot in next year’s AFC Asian Cup with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over hosts Yemen in a final-round qualifier in Sana’a on Wednesday.
Forward Sota Hirayama, a first-half substitute, scored a hat trick on his Japan debut to help the visitors overcome a 2-0 deficit.
With one match remaining, Japan improved their points total to 12 to secure a top-two place in Group A.
Bahrain, with a game in hand, also booked their place in the 2011 finals in Qatar. They also have 12 points after beating Hong Kong 4-0 at home.
Yemen have three points and Hong Kong none in the four-team group.
At Ali Mohsen Al-Muraisi Stadium in the Yemeni capital, a young and inexperienced Japan team went behind in the 13th minute when defender Basem Al-Aqel headed in a corner. The hosts widened their lead in the 39th minute with midfielder Sami Karama’s mid-range shot.
But three minutes later, Japan started fighting back. Hirayama, who came off the bench in the 21st minute in place of injured midfielder Naoki Yamada, headed in a Mu Kanazaki corner.
Japan’s rally continued after the break, as Hirayama equalized in the 55th minute. The FC Tokyo forward controlled a cross from halftime-substitute Takashi Inui, turned and fired the ball into the net.
Hirayama added another with a fine volley in the 79th minute, completing the scoring for Japan.
Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki scored the last hat trick for Japan on October 8 last year, against Hong Kong in an Asian Cup qualifier.
It was the first time in 80 years and the second time overall for a Japan player to score three goals on his debut. Takeo Wakabayashi last managed that in 1930, against the Philippines.
“Our younger players fought back to reverse the two-goal deficit. I’m satisfied we got three points,” Japan coach Takeshi Okada said.
“Yemen were much stronger than before, and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy game. They played more as a team and fought harder for the ball.
“Because our less-experienced players were somewhat nervous, we gave up a goal early in the game, but we improved in the second half with our fullbacks coming forward more aggressively.”
Asked about Hirayama, Okada commented, “I should give him credit for scoring three goals. Whether or not he can get into the senior team is a different matter, but he showed us his potential today.”
Japan will play Bahrain on March 3 at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture in their sixth and final qualifying match.
Japan—Shuichi Gonda, Tomoaki Makino, Naoya Kikuchi, Maya Yoshida, Kosuke Ota, Kazuya Yamamura (Takashi Inui, 46), Takuji Yonemoto, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Naoki Yamada (Sota Hirayama, 21), Mu Kanazaki, Kazuma Watanabe (Kensuke Nagai, 85). Coach, Takeshi Okada
Yemen—Salem Abdullah Awadh Saeed, Basem Saeed Abdullah Al-Aqel (Hamada Ahmed Mohammed Al-Zubairi, 71), Zaher Mohammed Farid Al-Fadhli, Ali Mohammed Mohammed Al-Nono, Akram Hamood Abdo Al-Wrafi (Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed Al-Abidi, 83), Khaled Hasan Hussein Baleid, Ala Mohammed Abdullah Al Sasi, Sami Karama Salem Abbod (Hussein Ahmed Hussein Al-Ghazi, 77), Aref Thabit Mohammed Al-Dali, Munassar Awadh Abdullah Ba Haj, Ahmed Sadeq Ahmed Al-Khamri. Coach, Srecko Juricic
Goals—Basem Saeed Abdullah Al-Aqel (13) and Sami Karama Salem Abbod (39) for Yemen. Sota Hirayama (42, 55, 79) for Japan.
Cautions—Tomoaki Makino, Naoya Kikuchi and Takuji Yonemoto (all Japan)
Referee—Ali Hamad Madhad Saif Albadwawi (UAE)