• Kyodo


Holder Japan held off Iran to pick up the point it needed to finish top of Group D after a 0-0 draw at the Asian Cup in Chongqing on Wednesday evening.

News photoTakayuki Suzuki shows his disappointment after missing an open goal in the first half of Japan’s Asian Cup match against Iran in Chongqing, China. The matched ended in a scoreless draw.

Japan topped the group on seven points following wins over Oman and Thailand with Iran two points behind. Oman’s slim chances of reaching the last eight ended despite a 2-0 win over Thailand in Chengdu.

Zico’s men survived intense second-half pressure from Iran after the interval but held steady in sweltering conditions thanks to solid defending and a series of important saves from Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.

Japan will meet Group B runnerup Jordan in Chongqing while three-time Asian champion Iran moves to Jinan where it faces in-form South Korea in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

“It was a tough game but we achieved the goal of staying here in Chongquing,” Zico said. “Iran is a very strong team and the crowd was totally hostile. The players did well under the circumstances.”

Chinese fans turned out in force again to jeer the Japanese team with thousands of them waving Iranian flags and greeting every Iran attack with a deafening roar at Chongqing Olympic Sports Center.

Unfazed by the hostile reception, Japan settled into its passing game early on and striker Keiji Tamada was inches away from connecting with an Alessandro Santos cross after five minutes.

But it was the Iranians, missing three defenders suspended for unpunished red card offenses during their controversial 2-2 draw with Oman on Saturday, who went closest to drawing first blood in a first half littered with fouls.

Japan goalkeeper Kawaguchi pulled off a superb one-handed save to deny Sayyed Mohammad Aalavi and then got down to beat away a shot from Mehdi Mahdavikia a minute before halftime.

With Zico’s men content to soak up the pressure after the interval, Iran pushed for a winner and talismanic striker Ali Daei squandered a gilt-edged chance to put his side in front by blazing over from a good position.

Iman Mobili tested Kawaguchi from a distance in the 72nd minute but despite creating several more chances Iran was unable to breach a Japan defense superbly marshaled by captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto.

Antlers sign Baron

J. League first-division club Kashima Antlers said Wednesday they have acquired Brazilian striker Baron, who played for second-division club Ventforet Kofu in the first half of the season.

The contract runs through Jan. 1 for the 30-year-old Baron, who has also played for JEF United Ichihara, Shimizu S-Pulse and Cerezo Osaka. He has appeared in 140 first-division league matches and scored 60 goals.

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