MANAMA – Japan crashed to its first defeat of 2009 after a 1-0 loss away to Bahrain in the final round of qualifiers for the 2011 Asian Cup on Wednesday night.
Salman Issa struck the decisive blow in the 24th minute at Manama’s National Stadium as Bahrain made it two wins out of two in Group A after last week’s 3-1 win over Hong Kong.
Japan, 2-1 winners over Yemen in its opening game, are level on three points with the Yemenis, who beat Hong Kong 1-0 earlier in the day.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada, who described defeat here nearly a year ago in a World Cup qualifier as the most humiliating moment of his career, admitted his side had been second best and was unhappy about the manner in which his players repeatedly conceded possession in the middle of the park.
“We had a lot of problems as our players tried to play their usual game but Bahrain was the better side in the first half,” said Okada.
“There were a lot of misplaced passes in midfield and when you make a lot of mistakes things obviously do not go well. It’s very disappointing to lose but we just have to look at this as a lesson learned ahead of (the upcoming World Cup qualifier against) Australia.”
Tatsuya Tanaka had a chance to give Japan the lead on 23 minutes after being set up by Keisuke Honda but Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Mohamad Jaafar saved his effort at the second attempt.
Bahrain broke the deadlock a minute later as Issa got his head to Hussain Baba’s deep free kick to beat Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
Shinji Okazaki and Kengo Nakamura were both denied by Jaafar as Japan pushed for an equalizer but Bahrain held on to take maximum points.
“We are happy with the win but we will not overreact because we have more hard matches to come,” said Bahrain coach Milan Macala, whose team is also in the same final-round World Cup qualifying group as Japan.
“Our next match is hard because it will be against Uzbekistan. I am happy we managed to beat Japan and we produced a good performance. However, we made some mistakes in the second half that we should try to avoid in future matches.”
The top two teams from each of the qualifying groups progress to the 2011 Asian Cup finals.