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05/02/2012

Japan fall to Syria in Olympic qualifier Game 4

The Japan Under-23 side gave up a last-minute goal to Syria in their fourth match of the final round of qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics on Sunday afternoon in Amman, Jordan, and lost the match 2-1.

Nagoya Grampus forward Kensuke Nagai cancelled out Syria’s first goal in first-half injury time, but Syria captain Ahmad Al Salih fired home from long range in the 90th minute to stun the group leaders.
With two matches remaining in the final round, Japan dropped to second in Group C behind Syria on the number of goals scored. The group winners from the three final-round groups will qualify for the Summer Games, while the runners-up will play each other in further playoffs to win the right to play an African side for the remaining ticket to London.
Syria, despite having to play in Jordan, came out fighting as they sought to avenge their 2-1 loss to Japan in November.
Japan were put under pressure from the start with their opponents frequently attacking the space behind the Japanese backline.
To make their situation worse, Japan lost attacking midfielder Ryohei Yamazaki in the 15th minute after the Jubilo Iwata player injured his arm.
Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka brought on Kashima Antlers forward Yuya Osako in place of Yamazaki and shifted Nagai to the left wing.
Soon after, Japan gave away the opener to Syria. In the 19th minute, Osako attempted to clear a Mohammed Fares free-kick in the area, but he misjudged his header and the ball sailed into the Japan goal.
The young Japanese side tried to rally but struggled to create good chances, while Syria went on the attack and came close with an attempt from forward Omar Al Suma in the 39th minute.
Japan leveled the scores shortly before the break when Osako got a feed from the back and played in Nagai, who skillfully slotted home from inside the box.
Japan again came under pressure early in the second half, but the arrival of Cerezo Osaka midfielder Takahiro Ogihara from the bench around the 75th minute helped the Japanese players find a better attacking rhythm.
In the 80th minute, Japan came close to breaking the tie with a shot by Osako that the Syrian keeper managed to get his fingertips to. A minute later, a Nagai shot narrowly cleared the bar.
A draw would have maintained Japan’s three-point lead over Syria, but in the 90th minute Ahmad Al Salih sent a long, looping shot over the head of Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda to seal the match for the Syrians.
Japan will next play Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur while Syria will visit Bahrain in the fifth game, both on February 22.