World Football - Japan dump out Qatar in thriller
A late goal by Masahiko Inoha helped 10-man Japan come from behind twice to beat Asian Cup hosts Qatar 3-2 in the first quarter-final in Doha in the game of the tournament so far at the Al-Gharaffa Football Stadium.
With the Blue Samurai a man down for half an hour after Maya Yushida was harshly sent off, Inoha - a right-back inexplicably ending up as an advanced winger - finished from close range after man-of-the-match Shinji Kagawa was denied a hat-trick by keeper Qasem Burhan.
Qatar - with their mixture of local players, foreign Arabs, South Americans and Africans - had taken the lead twice, through Uruguay-born striker Sebastian Soria and Brazilian Fabio Cesar Montezine, with Borussia Dortmund midfielder Kagawa, 21, levelling on both occasions.
But despite their numerical disadvantage, Japan threw everyone forward to pull ahead for the first time in the match with only a minute remaining, and then withstood an injury-time barrage to keep alive their quest for a record fourth Asian Cup title.
Japan will now play either Iran or South Korea in the semi-finals.
One of the pre-tournament favourites, Japan were initially overrun by a high-tempo start from the hosts, with Messad Al-Hamad twice forcing excellent stops from Eji Kawashima.
Kawashima was culpable for Qatar’s 13th-minute opener though, as was his defence who failed play an effective offside trap as Soria raced clear and fired a low finish through the body of the Lierse goalkeeper.
Japan refused to panic though and, if anything, conceding a goal seemed to snap them back into their passing game.
Cesena full-back Yuto Nagatomo fired a warning shot, testing Burhan from range, and on 27 minutes they were level when Keisuke Honda - linked with Arsenal and Liverpool but quiet until this point - found Shinji Okazaki with a delightful through ball, the Shimizu S-Pulse forward’s lob was then nodded over the line by rising Bundesliga star Kagawa.
Qatar had a chance to retake the lead when Yusuf Ahmed scuffed his finish after Soria sent him through with a superb pass.
But Alberto Zaccheromi’s side looked the likeliest as Okazaki and Makoto Hasebe forced Burhan into action, while Kagawa smacked a volley across the face of goal and wide after Ryoichi Maeda’s flick on.
The hosts started the second half in bullish and, at times, bullying fashion, as Japan were rattled by a physical approach that saw defender Yushida booked for bringing down Soria on the edge of the box when the Qatar striker clearly backed into his marker.
Okazaki headed inches wide with a diving header as Japan tried to regain some control over the match.
They were thrown a huge test when, just after the hour mark, Yoshida was shown a second yellow card for sliding into livewire striker Yusuf Ahmed; with the linesman in direct view of the incident on the right wing, Yoshida clearly and without question won the ball, the shock clear among players of both sides.
Things went from bad to worse when Qatar scored from the subsequent free-kick, the manner of which was embarrassing for Japan; having just come off the bench, Fabio Cesar curled a low ball into the near post that somehow squeezed through Japan’s defenders and was flapped into the net by Kawashima, who was a full yard behind the goal-line as he tried in vain to keep out an effort that should never have gone in.
But, against all the odds, Japan levelled seven minutes later when a lucky ricochet at the edge of the Qatar box saw the ball drop at the feet of Kagawa, who raced clear with a killer first touch and coolly clipped an angled finish around the onrushing Burhan.
Qatar could scarcely believe it and pushed for a winner, Basim Rajab heading wide and Kawashima saving from Fabio Cesar and Ahmed as he tried to atone for his error.
It was Japan who won it though, and while Inoha claimed the winner as he slid the ball into an empty net the plaudits must go to Kagawa, who is outshining Honda in this tournament and created the goal with a mazy dribble, rounding Burhan before possibly being fouled, the loose ball the landed at the overlapping Inoha's feet for a simple finish.
To their credit, Qatar bombarded Japan in injury time; they had a succession of corners and free-kicks and Kawshima had to save well from Ibrahim Al-Ghanim’s header, but the Blue Samurai held on to claim a famous victory.