SANAA – Sota Hirayama grabbed a hat trick as Japan came from two goals down to beat Yemen 3-2 away on Wednesday night to book a spot in the 2011 Asian Cup finals in Qatar.
Three-time Asian champion Japan improved to 12 points from five games in Group A, qualifying with one game to spare. Takeshi Okada’s men face Bahrain in their final qualifier at home on March 3.
Okada fielded a young and inexperienced lineup, opting to give some new faces a chance to prove themselves, with 13 players having received their first call up for the national team.
Yemen took advantage and gained the upper hand through Zaher Farid’s header after 13 minutes and Sami Karama doubled the home side’s lead with a fine finish six minutes before the interval.
But Hirayama, on for injured midfielder Naoki Yamada, reduced the arrears with a header in the 42nd minute and added a second early in the second half before completing victory and his hat trick 11 minutes from time.
The 16-team Asian Cup gets under way on Jan. 7 next year.