Favourites struggle in Group B at Asian Cup

Sunday, January 9, 2011

DOHA - Both favourites struggled in their opening Group B matches at the Asian Cup Sunday as Saudi Arabia were beaten 2-1 by Syria, while Japan needed a last-gasp equaliser to escape with a 1-1 draw against Jordan.

The results see Syria top the group with three points from Japan and Jordan. Saudi Arabia have no points.

In the later game played in the Al Rayyan stadium, Syria, who have been knocked out in the first round in all four previous appearances at the championships, secured only their second victory against Saudi Arabia in 24 matches and their first since 1976.

Abdelrazaq Al Hussain scored both goals for his side, putting them ahead in the 37th minute with a wonderful volley from the edge of the area after a poor clearance.

In the 59th minute Saudi Arabia equalised through Taisir Al-Jassim, who scored with a header from the edge of the area after goalkeeper Musab Balhous punched a corner out into the centre of the field.

Just three minutes later though, Al Hussain scored his second with another deflected shot after the Saudis had failed to clear a ball.

Yasser Al-Qahtani came agonizingly close to an injury time equaliser for Saudi Arabia, who have won the tournament three times, but Balhous dived to his right to deny the striker with a breathtaking save.

After the whistle the Syrian players ran to their fanatical supporters in the 15,700 crowd in the 22,000-stadium, prompting Syrian coach Tita Valeriu, who was only appointed last month, to thank them.

“I like very much the fans and spectators, they were like the 12th player in the game.”

The Romanian however stressed that the victory was only the beginning. “This is a battle and we have not yet won the war. The difficult part is just starting.”

For embattled Saudi Arabian coach Jose Peseiro the defeat could herald the beginning of the end, even if he still rates his teams’ chances of advancing.

“We lost the first game but I believe we can win other games. Spain lost the first game at the South African World Cup and went on to win,” said Peseiro.

In the earlier game goalkeeper Amer Shafi was the hero for his side as Jordan held three-time champions Japan to a 1-1 draw.

Hasan Abdel Fattah gave the Arab nation the lead just before the break, before Maya Yoshida levelled with a header two minutes into second-half injury-time.

Had it not been for Shafi, who pulled off a number of fantastic saves and was named as the player of the match, his side would have lost the game.

Japan, whose last defeat was against the Netherlands at the World Cup in June last year (although they went out on penalties against Paraguay in the second) and beat a full-strength Argentina in October, completely dominated the first half.

In front of some 6,000 spectators in the 12,500-seater Qatar SC stadium, the three-time Asian Cup champions failed to capitalise on their chances as Shafi kept their forwards at bay.

Completely against the run of play Jordan took the lead a minute from the break after Fattah’s shot from just inside the penalty area took a wicked deflection off Yoshida and went into goal.

Japan threw everything forward in the second half, with Shinji Kagawa, who has taken the Bundesliga by storm in his first season in Germany, controlling the game from his position behind the forward line.

Jordan, who prior to this tournament had qualified only once for the showpiece of Asian football, managed to withhold the pressure their opponents threw at them until the 92nd minute when Kagawa played a corner to Makoto Hasebe and his cross found Yoshida in space.

Filed under: Football, Soccer

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