Shinji Okazaki’s late strike gave Japan a 2-1 away victory over Oman on Wednesday, leaving the Asian champions on the brink of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
But Okazaki pounced on a quick counter-attack in the 89th minute for runaway Group B leaders Japan, smashing home a clever flick from Yasuhito Endo from point-blank range.
“I’m happy to have scored – I didn’t do much else today,” Okazaki told reporters. “We were made to suffer and didn’t have control of the game. We really had to dig in for the result.”
Kiyotake, starting in place of the injured Shinji Kagawa, put Japan in front after 20 minutes when he drilled a low cross from Yuto Nagatomo past goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.
Oman were unlucky not to pull level in the 36th minute, Ismail Al Ajmi’s header smacking against the post and rolling back across line before Nagatomo slid in to clear.
Japan, who now have 13 points from five matches, have appeared at every World Cup since first qualifying for the 1998 finals in France. Oman have five points from five games.
“The objective is to reach the World Cup so I’m very satisfied to come away with three points,” said Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
“I would like to compliment Oman’s players. They showed great heart, and the heat made it difficult for us to play our style. I’m proud of the players for sticking to the task.”
Iraq edge Jordan
Meanwhile, a late goal by striker Hammadi Ahmed gave a youthful Iraq a vital 1-0 victory over Jordan in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday, thrusting them back into contention for a place in Brazil.
Jordan had wasted a number of good chances to break the deadlock before Ahmed took advantage of the space afforded to him on the edge of the area to fire home a fierce 20-metre shot in the 86th minute.
The victory was Iraq’s first in Group B of the fourth round of Asian qualifying and moved them on to five points from five matches, one ahead of Jordan and level with second-placed Australia and Oman.
Japan lead the way on 13 points after beating Oman 2-1 in Muscat and are heavy favorites to take one of the two guaranteed qualifying berths from the group.
Iraq, forced to play their home matches in Qatar by FIFA because of security issues at home, looked least likely to qualify before Wednesday’s match after some disappointing results and without a number of key individuals against Jordan.
Brazilian coach Zico named a side full of 20-year-olds who struggled in a dire first half of few chances between two sides who were meeting for the fourth time in this World Cup campaign, having played home and away in the third round.
The game sprang to life in the last 30 minutes, however, with Jordan’s Hasan Mahmoud denied brilliantly from seven meters out by Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri.
Another sharp shot by Mahmoud was palmed away by Sabri in the 72nd minute before the Iraq goalkeeper was caught out of position four minutes later only for his team mates to scramble two efforts off the goal line.
Ahmed then scored on a counter-attack but Sabri secured the man-of-the-match honors by clawing away another close-range Jordan effort by substitute Hamza Al Daradreh in the 89th minute.
The goalkeeper palmed the ball into the air as he fell backwards towards the goal line before pushing it away just in time at the second attempt as a Jordan attacker closed.
Jordan next face a tricky task at home to Japan in March, while 2007 Asian champions Iraq play their final three qualifiers in June away to Oman and Australia with a ‘home’ tie against the Blue Samurai in between.