Japan mauls Saudis 5-0 to make quarters
DOHA, Qatar - Shinji Okazaki scored a hat trick as Japan crushed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their last Asian Cup group match Monday, booking a quarterfinal spot and mauling the pride of their fellow three-time champions.
Ryoichi Maeda also struck twice as the Blue Samurai avenged their loss to the Saudis in the 2007 semifinals, which denied them a record third-straight continental title. Japan had needed just a point to qualify after a draw with Jordan and a 2-1 win over Syria. They now face hosts Qatar in the last eight.
The Saudis had already crashed out of contention - only the second time in Asian Cup history that they have not made it to the knockout stages.
“I’m very satisfied with today’s result,” Japan’s coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. “I think we’ve cleared the first hurdle of this tournament. We did better in the second match than in the opener and we did better in the third than in the second. I’m glad to see the team growing like that.”
“We wished to present you a very beautiful match with Japan. But we haven’t performed in a way to redeem our national team in the entire tournament,” he said.
The Blue Samurai shrugged off the absence of suspended first-choice goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and two injured midfielders, Keisuke Honda and Daisuke Matsui.
Ace striker Yasser al-Qahtani attempted the first Saudi shot in the second minute when he trapped a through pass and floated the ball wide. Shimizu S-Pulse striker Okazaki, filling in for CSKA Moscow’s Honda, missed a chance two minutes later when he narrowly failed to meet Maeda’s cross towards Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah.
But Okazaki, reportedly nearing a deal with Stuttgart, opened the scoring on eight minutes, trapping a long ball from Yasuhito Endo in the box, lifting the ball over Abdullah and slotting it into an open net. The 24-year-old, who scored the final goal in Japan’s 3-1 win over Denmark in the World Cup group stage, doubled the score in the 13th minute as he banged home a cross from Borussia Dortmund rookie Shinji Kagawa with a breath-taking diving header.
On facing Qatar next, Zaccheroni warned: “They have rebuilt themselves after losing their opener and are really pumped up.”