HANOI — An under-the-weather Naohiro Takahara scored two first-half goals as Japan beat the United Arab Emirates 3-1 to move to the top of Group B and eliminate the Gulf nation from the Asian Cup finals.
Friday night in Hanoi. Japan won 3-1.
Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura wrapped up a comfortable victory three minutes before halftime from the penalty spot in stifling conditions at Hanoi’s My Dinh Stadium on Friday evening.
Eintracht Frankfurt forward Takahara was hit with a mystery bug and had a sleepless night prior to the match, but showed no ill effects by plundering goals in the 22nd and 27th minutes to put Japan on four points after two games to lead the Vietnamese, who they play Monday, by goal difference.
Takahara came off later in the match but coach Ivica Osim played down the potential absence of the deadly forward in their final group game and concentrated instead on crediting his players on an energetic display after labeling them “a bunch of amateurs” following their 1-1 draw against Qatar.
“If Takahara cannot play the next game it doesn’t mean the Japanese team cannot play the next game . . . but maybe he is just tired,” said Osim. “More than the result I am pleased with how lively we were in the hot and humid conditions today. I’m even more pleased that no one had a heart attack!
“They moved the ball around most of the time and made their players move — that’s why we won,” said Osim. “The ball is never tired so we just kept moving the ball. We dictated the pace of the game but if the UAE had scored who knows what might have happened. They might have run us into the ground.”
UAE coach Bruno Metsu said the suffocating heat made it tough for both teams but that the Japanese will have to get used to it and improve if they are to go on to win the tournament for a third-straight time.
“The players lost two kilos in their match today — the humidity was very hard for them. To watch the game was difficult, so imagine how difficult it was to play,” said Metsu.
“Japan has many good players but I think if we didn’t make mistakes anything could have been possible against them. They have a big chance to win the competition but they will have to raise their level as they will come up against some strong teams.”
UAE enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the first 20 minutes, up to when Takahara headed Japan in front, and he had fellow Europe-based teammate Nakamura to thank after the midfielder displayed wonderful technique to slide to the byline and deliver a perfect left-foot cross which the marksman powered home.
Takahara doubled the lead in fine fashion five minutes later, with his third goal of the tournament.
Akira Kaji shunted in a pass from the right and the forward tamed a bouncing ball with his chest before lashing in a shot that no one expected — not least UAE ‘keeper Majed Maqdemi, who could only stand and watch the ball fly by.
If the game wasn’t already over, Nakamura made sure from the penalty spot, scooping the ball into the roof of the net after a hesitant run up.
The penalty decision was a poor one, though, with referee Satop Tongkhan punishing Maqdemi for a non-existent foul on man-of-the match Yasuhito Endo.
With the win wrapped up by halftime, the more interesting action came at the start of the second half courtesy of the bats swooping around the stadium, attacking the helpless flying insects sharing their air space.
It was just as one-sided at pitch level.
The UAE had all but given up and so resorted to some rather testy tackles.
The aptly named Basheer Al Hammadi received a straight red card for a wince-inducing lunge on Keita Suzuki, and Nakamura very nearly punished the UAE from the resultant free-kick, but his curler was beaten away by Maqdemi.
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