Dubai: Japan advanced to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 semi-finals after defeating Vietnam 1-0 in an absorbing last eight tie that saw the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) being called into action twice.
Introduced from the quarter-final stage, VAR first denied and then benefited Japan as the Samurai Blue stayed on track for a record-extending fifth AFC Asian Cup title.
VAR was first called into play in the 24th minute when Maya Yoshida’s goal was ruled out for a handball and again in the 56th minute when Vietnam’s Bùi Tien Dung was ruled to have brought down Ritsu Doan.
Doan converted the spot-kick and Japan will face the winners of Tuesday’s later last eight tie between Islamic Republic of Iran and China PR in Monday’s semi-final.
Japan, having opted for a defensive approach in their Round of 16 tie against Saudi Arabia, were back at their attacking best from the start as they pressed high to keep Vietnam in their half.
The lion’s share of possession, however, didn’t translate into clear openings for Hajime Moriyasu’s side as a disciplined Vietnamese backline kept the Samurai Blue at bay.
Koya Kitagawa’s pass in the 23rd minute gave Genki Haraguchi a sight at goal but before he could unleash a strike, Vietnam defender Do Duy Manh slid in to send the ball out of play.
The resultant corner saw Haraguchi send in a curler that found a surging captain Maya Yoshida, who headed the ball into the back of the net.
However, the Video Assistant Referee was called into action for the first time in the AFC Asian Cup and much to Vietnam’s relief, referee Mohammed Abdulla Mohamed of UAE disallowed the goal as Yoshida’s header had deflected off his arm.
A buoyant Vietnam then took the game to Japan, with Nguyen Công Phuong ending a surging run by just sending the ball wide.
With Vietnam in the ascendancy, the Japanese defence came under pressure and goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda forced into making his first save of the game as Phan Van Duc same close in the 37th minute strike, before being called into action again a minute later to deny another close-range attempt from the Song Lam Nghe An midfielder.
Dang Van Lâm ensured his side went into the break level with a superb save after Ritsu Doan found Takumi Minamino inside the box only to see the Vietnam goalkeeper stretch out a hand to send the ball out of play.
Japan kept their foot on the pedal in the second half and their slick passing and penetrative runs had Vietnam defending desperately.
One such move saw the surging Doan’s run blocked by Bui and referee Mohammed, after referring to the VAR, awarded a penalty which Doan converted in the 57th minute.
Having taken the lead, Japan took a stranglehold on possession as Vietnam hardly got a touch of the ball.
One rare Vietnam foray saw substitute Nguyen Phong Hong Duy coming close in the 73rd minute as his low drive missed the upright by mere inches.
That was to be it for the Southeast Asians as their fairytale run came to an end while for Japan, a fifth AFC Asian Cup title remains in sight.