DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Striker Shinji Okazaki scored a late winner Wednesday as Japan beat Oman 2-1 to move closer to clinching a spot in the 2014 World Cup, while Iraq revived its campaign with a 1-0 win against Jordan.
Qatar beat Lebanon 1-0 in the 2022 World Cup host’s bid to reach the tournament for the first time, while Uzbekistan vanquished Iran 1-0 in the other Group A match.
With Oman pressing, Japan went on the counterattack and Gotoku Sakai’s cross into the area deflected off Yasuhito Endo and landed into the path of Okazaki, who scored in the 89th minute.
Japan leads Group B in Asian qualifying by eight points over Australia, Jordan and Oman and is on the verge of reaching its fifth World Cup with three matches remaining.
“The first half was tough for us as it was hot and made an impact on the players. But as the sun set and conditions became better, it suited our style and we played better in the second half,” Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. “Oman played good and it was difficult to break through their defense. But I instructed my players to attack more from the flanks, which finally worked in our favor.”
Oman almost took the lead in the 10th. Amad Al-Hosni’s quick throw-in caught the Japan defense sleeping, but Fawzi Bashir blazed a shot over the crossbar.
Japan started pressing and scored in the 20th minute thanks to Yuto Nagatomo’s cross to Hiroshi Kiyotake, who slotted the ball into the net after a defensive lapse by Rashid Al-Farsi.
Oman had a chance to level in the 36th when Ismail Al-Ajmi fed Al Gheilani Hassan Yousuf Madhafar, whose header hit the post and rolled across the goal-mouth before being cleared to safety.
Oman leveled when a free kick from Ahmed Mubarak slipped under the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima in the 77th.
Three minutes later, Kawashima was forced to race off his line to block at the feet of Saleh.
“I am proud of my boys and happy on the way they played against one of the best teams in the world,” Oman coach Paul Le Guen said. “We still have nine points to fight for and we will not give up till the end.”
Iraq won its first match due to Ahmed Hammadi’s blistering shot from outside the area in the 86th minute. Iraq plays its matches in Qatar due to security concerns at home.
“The match was very difficult. We had a youthful team at our disposal. I congratulate them for winning this,” Iraq coach Zico said. “We badly needed a win to remain alive in the fray.”
Jordan was left to rue some missed chances that could have given it the momentum early on. In the 30th minute, striker Abdallah Deeb’s shot flew just over the crossbar, and he was denied four minutes later by a great save from goalkeeper Noor Sabri, who only got better as the match wore on.
Sabri stopped Husam Ibrahim Ali in the second half from point-blank range and then turned away a shot from substitute Hamza Al-Dardour in the closing minutes with an acrobatic save. He first stopped the ball with his left foot and then cleared it with his right hand.
On the hour mark, Jordan replaced both strikers with Ahmed Hayel coming in for Thaer Bawab and Odai Al-Saify for Abdallah. Ahmed wasted one chance with a weak finish.
“We have created many chances but couldn’t convert,” Jordan coach Adnan Ahmed. “This is football, but this isn’t the end of road for us. We hope that we can improve in our game next time. We still have three games and the door is wide open.”
Jordan is bottom of Group B, nine points behind leader Japan.
Qatar beats Lebanon
In Doha, a long-range strike from Uruguayan-born striker Sebastian Suria helped Qatar beat Lebanon 1-0.
Suria took a pass from Fabio Cesar and fired the ball from 20 meters outside the area, sending it curling past Lebanon keeper Abbas Hassan. The goal set off raucous celebrations among the home supporters, who are desperate for a good showing after Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar almost doubled its lead 10 minutes later when Suria sent a back-heel pass to Lawrence, whose driving shot was knocked away by Hassan. Lebanon had a chance to draw level in extra time but Qasem Burhan saved Roda Antar’s shot.
Uzbekistan beats Iran
In Tehran, Uzbekistan beat Iran 1-0, throwing open Group A where four teams are now within a point of the top spot.
Striker Ulugbek Bakaev got hold of a curling free kick from Server Djepararov to score the winner in the 71st minute. The win sends Uzbekistan to the top of Group A, a point ahead of South Korea, Iran and Qatar. South Korea did not play Wednesday.
Iran had a chance to equalize but a goal in injury time from substitute Milad Nori was disallowed for offside.
Iran, which beat Uzbekistan in its opening match, has struggled to find its form. The team failed to reach the 2010 World Cup but is a favorite to advance this time.