INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – Japan was schooled 3-1 by Iraq as the defending Asian Games champion missed out on booking a spot in the knockout phase on Wednesday.
Two second-half goals by Ali Al Tameemi added to Humam Faraj’s opener and gave Iraq its second victory in as many games in Group D and a place in the last 16.
Shoya Nakajima had leveled before halftime for Makoto Teguramori’s Under-21s, who were overpowered by a seasoned Under-23 Iraqi side featuring overage players including 2007 Asian Cup MVP Younis Mahmoud.
Japan’s next game is on Sunday against Nepal, who was thrashed 5-0 by Kuwait earlier Wednesday.
“We lost by two (goals) on paper, but if you ask me did we deserve to lose by two, then no. We didn’t take our chances and that was the bottom line,” said Teguramori.
“I thought we did well to equalize so their second goal was regrettable. I think we were able to match Iraq. We kept up with their pace and power and I think if we face them again in the knockout phase we can beat them,” he added.
“We missed an opportunity to win tonight but tonight’s defeat doesn’t mean we can’t win the title.”
As expected, Japan was put to test by Iraq from the start and fell behind after 12 minutes, when it paid the price for a piece of careless defending.
A half-clearance from Meiji University’s Sei Muroya landed right at the feet of 18-year-old Faraj, who didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger from the edge of the box, netting into the bottom corner.
Al Tameemi nearly doubled the advantage with a dipping free kick from 35 meters out, but goalkeeper Ayumi Niekawa came to the rescue with a fine leaping save.
Iraq continued to control the game with its physicality and pace, looking like it would open up a bigger lead going into the intermission.
But Japan caught a break in the 36th minute when Nakajima managed to brush off Sameh Al Mamoori on the short counter, and held his nerve to beat goalkeeper Mohammed Farhan in a one-on-one to restore parity.
Japan failed to capitalize on its luck in the second half, though, going down 2-1 in the 48th minute because of another lapse in the defense.
Al Tameemi slipped right through the back line uncontested as Al Mamoori’s ball over the top came in, volleying past Niekawa to re-establish Iraq’s advantage.
Al Tameemi took matters into his own hand to make it 3-1 in the 72nd minute, blasting a 25-meter free kick from the right wing into the top corner off Niekawa’s hand.
Wilkins aiming high
Winning the 2015 Asian Cup should be the target for Jordan, an ambitious head coach Ray Wilkins said after he signed his contract on Wednesday to take charge of the West Asians.
Jordan has only twice qualified for the Asian Cup finals, but on both occasions reached the quarterfinals — in 2004 and in Qatar four years ago.
It has been handed a tricky draw for the January tournament in Group D alongside defending champion Japan, 2007 winner Iraq and tournament debutante Palestine, but Wilkins was undeterred.
“We have to go a couple better, it’s either the semifinals or the final, we’re here to actually win,” former England midfielder Wilkins told reporters in the Jordanian capital on Wednesday.