KUALA LUMPUR: Toyama Shoji’s 81st minute strike earned Japan a place in the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 semifinals and their ticket to the 2019 Fifa U-17 World Cup after they edged Oman 2-1 in their last eight tie at the National Stadium on Sunday. Japan will play the winners of the Australia-Indonesia quarterfinal in the last four on Thursday after overcoming a spirited Oman who impressed with their fighting performance. It was a battle of former champions at the National Stadium, with both teams having previously won two titles each, but Group A winners Japan held the lion’s share of possession in the early minutes but hardly tested Omani goalkeeper Maitham al Ajmi.
Japan’s first clear chance came in the 14th minute, when Nishikawa Jun sent a brilliant through pass behind the Oman backline, setting up Naruoka Hikaru who had just the keeper to beat, but his shot to the bottom right missed the target by mere inches. However, the East Asians were ahead just a minute later with Araki Ryotaro lobbing the ball over the Oman defenders to find a surging Jun, who beat the offside trap and forced Al Ajmi to parry his effort, only for sliding defender Issa al Naabi to steer it into the empty goalmouth.
Having won the title in 1996 and 2000, Oman were undeterred by the goal and moved confidently in their search of the equaliser.
In the 21st minute, Oman threatened from the right flank and their quick exchange of passes flustered the Japanese defence, allowing Al Azhar al Balushi to send in a cross into the box and Tariq al Mashari rose highest to head the ball home.
Japan continued to dominate proceedings, but Oman were solid in defence, and the match was finely poised as both teams went into the half time break.
Yoshiro Moriyama’s charges maintained possession in the second half but were cautious moving forward as Oman looked dangerous on the counter-attack.
Jun came close to breaking the stalemate in the 54th and 59th minutes, but Al Ajmi was on top of his game, making fine saves.
Oman had a scare in the 71st minute when a cross from deep in the Japan half caught them off guard, with Jun dashing down the left, but substitute Toyama Shoji failed to get a boot to his team-mate’s pass.
However, Shoji made no mistake 10 minutes later from close range, courtesy of Jun’s impressive low cross as Japan held on for the win.
Yoshiro Moriyama, Japan head coach, said:
“It was difficult to play against a team who have good strikers, normally they play with two strikers in the front, but today they placed their wingers up front instead. We really struggled, but our players played well and got a good result. Now that we have accomplished one of our goals of qualifying to the World Cup, we will switch up a little bit going into the next game.”
Yaqoub al Sabahi, Oman head coach, said:
“It was a close game, but in the end, football is about who takes the chance, takes the win. Also, Japan played better in the second half and created many chance and that’s why (they won). Maybe it’s about fitness, but we were a little bit down. Sure (I am proud), we are happy, we are always willing to take them up higher to the next level.”