Japan, Uzbekistan survive scares, Qatar beat Lebanon

Thursday, 2019-01-10 07:46:12
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Japan (in blue) struggle to beat Turkmenistan 3-2 in their Asian Cup opener. (Photo: AFC)
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Four-time Asian Cup winners Japan got their 2019 campaign off to a winning start with a narrow 3-2 victory over plucky Turkmenistan in Group F on January 9.

World no. 127 Turkmenistan went into the break with a one-goal lead thanks to Arslanmurat Amanov's long-range stunner.

Samurai Blue hit back in the second half when talisman Yuya Osako netted a quickfire brace before attacking midfielder Ritsu Doan registered his side’s third. Ahmet Atayev reduced Japan’s lead from the penalty spot on 79 minutes but Hajime Moriyasu’s men held out for the win in Abu Dhabi.

Just like Japan earlier in the day, Hector Cuper’s Uzbekistan were pushed to the limit in their opening Group F game against Pim Verbeek’s Oman. Uzbekistan captain Odil Ahmedov fired the White Wolves in front in the 34th minute with an unstoppable free-kick that curled around the wall and found the bottom corner.

Verbeek’s side found a deserved equaliser thanks to substitute Muhsen Al Ghassani, who rounded highly-experienced goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov before firing into the net. However, their lead lasted just over ten minutes when another substitute made the difference, this time for the Uzbeks. Eldor Shomurodov ghosted past Mohammed Al-Musallami before scoring with his left-foot at Faiyz Al Rusheidi’s near post to seal the three crucial points for the Central Asians.

Uzbekistan will face neighbours Turkmenistan next, while Oman will prepare for a tough test against Japan.

The day concluded with a closely-fought encounter between Qatar and Lebanon to round out Group E, the first meeting between the sides in the competition’s history. Lebanon thought they had taken the lead before half-time but Ali Hamam's strike from a corner kick was ruled out for a foul in the build-up, so the first half failed to see either team produce a goal.

Qatar jumped in front in the 65th minute when Bassam Al Rawi scored with a free-kick at the edge of the penalty area, curling in a right-footed shot over the wall and in past Mehdi Khalil.

Almoez Ali ensured coach Felix Sanchez’s side all three points when he stabbed in a second-chance opportunity from close range in the 79th minute, following Abdelaziz Hatim’s initial shot.

Qatar join Saudi Arabia at the top of the group (each with three points) with Lebanon and Korea DPR at the base of the table with zero points each.