Football: High drama as Saudis go out and Japan win

DOHA, Jan 13, 2011 (AFP) - There was high drama at the Asian Cup on Thursday with Saudi Arabia knocked out and Japan recovering to beat Syria after having their goalkeeper controversially sent off.

Jordan dumped three-time champions Saudi Arabia out of the tournament with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a goalkeeping howler by Waleed Abdullah.

It has been a traumatic few days for Saudi Arabia, whose quest for a first Asian Cup since 1996 got off to a disastrous start when they were beaten 2-1 by Syria in their opening game.

It cost Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro his job, with Nasser Al Johar taking over.

But the change failed to pay off as the regional giants became the first team to be eliminated, while surprise package Jordan now have four points in Group B along with Japan. Syria have three points with one more game to play.

Japan's players celebrate with teammate Keisuke Honda (2nd R) after he scored a penalty goal against Syria on January 13, 2011. Japan won the match 2-1. AFP

Jordan got the shock winner three minutes before half-time and against the run of play when Baha Abdelrahman was left unchallenged at the Al-Rayyan Stadium, and lofted over a cross that inadvertently curled into the net.

It was a moment of horror for keeper Waleed, who totally misjudged the flight of the ball.

Al Johar was philosophical about the defeat.

"We played very well and we created opportunities to score, especially in the second half, but we were not lucky and this is football," he said.

"Maybe we'll do better in the future."

Jordan's Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad admitted his team had been lucky, and said they would build on their good fortune.

"We aimed to just keep it level in the first half but we were lucky to score. We still have a lot more work to do though and our expectations are getting bigger," he said.

They play their final crucial game against Syria on Monday after the Syrians crashed 2-1 to Japan in a high-octane clash at the Qatar Sports Club featuring two penalties and the dismissal of Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.

Captain Makoto Hasebe opened the scoring for the three-time champions in the 35th minute but Syria pulled one back after chaotic scenes that saw Kawashima dismissed.

He was accused of bringing down Sanharib Malki even though the player had been flagged offside.

Despite loud protests from Japanese players and team officials, Iranian referee Torky Mohsen awarded the spot-kick and red-carded Kawashima, who initially refused to leave the field.

Shusaku Nishikawa came on as a replacement and the first thing he had to do was pick the ball from the back of the net after Firas Al Khatib calmly converted the penalty.

"The referee's decision was wrong," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said.

"We confirmed the linesman raised the flag but the referee ruled it was not an offside, saying that the ball was in the process of a Japanese back pass." Down to 10 men, Japan nevertheless showed character to step up a gear and their World Cup hero Keisuke Honda slotted in the winner from another penalty six minutes later after Ali Dyab tripped substitute Shinji Okazaki.

A desperate Syria threw everyone forward in a bid to find the equaliser but despite six minutes of added time they left empty-handed.

Not only did they fail to salvage a point but they could face an enquiry after unsavoury scenes following the final whistle that saw players square up to the officials, prompoting a rush of security guards to protect them.

The final Group B games are played on Monday when Jordan face Syria and Japan take on the already eliminated Saudi Arabia.

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