DOHA – Japan defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 on Tuesday to wrap up the group phase with a perfect record at the Asian Under-23 Championship, the final regional qualifier for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Already assured top spot in Group B and a quarterfinal meeting with Iran, Japan took the lead courtesy of a spectacular strike from Ryota Oshima, before Yosuke Ideguchi scored what turned out to be the winner at Grand Hamad Stadium.
“It’s good that we got through the group and we showed the potential we have,” said Japan coach Makoto Teguramori.
With Japan having already secured its passage to the knockout phase, Teguramori made 10 changes to the side that thrashed Thailand 4-0 on Saturday, with goalkeeper Daichi Sugimoto, defender Ken Matsubara and midfielders Kento Misao and Ideguchi all getting their first starts.
Japan had a couple of early half chances, but Sugimoto was the first goalkeeper to be tested when he got down to foil Abdulrahman Al Ghamdi in the 16th minute.
Tatsuki Nara squandered a free header moments later and Takumi Minamino found space, only to drill his shot into the side netting, before Naomichi Ueda saw his header from point-blank range saved by Ahmad Al Harbi.
But Japan broke the deadlock when Oshima collected the ball 25 meters out and beat Al Harbi with a blistering effort just after the half-hour mark.
Eight minutes into the second half, Japan doubled its lead when Ideguchi steered home from 18 meters but the Saudis hit back through Abdullah Madu, who converted from the penalty spot after a foul on Al Ghamdi by Ueda.
The top two in each of the four groups advance to the quarterfinals. The two finalists and the winners of the third-place match qualify for Rio.
Japan, which reached the semifinals of the 2012 London Games, is aiming to qualify for its sixth consecutive Olympics.