RIYAD: Tuesday’s Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup saw a significant victory for previously struggling Japan, while the UAE continues to falter. Here are five things I learned from day four.
1. Japan’s victory means three in Group B for two automatic places
There is no doubt that when Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard sat down in Riyadh early afternoon to watch the Japan-Australia clash at Saitama Stadium, he would have wanted the Socceroos to get something out of the game instead of suffering a 2–1 loss delay.
If the visitors had won it would have left Japan with three points in four games and, assuming Saudi Arabia beat China (as they did) nine points behind the Green Falcons.
It would have been very difficult to imagine the Samurai Blue reversing a deficit of this size and the current top two would surely have stayed in those positions.
The late goal against Aziz Behich, who had a nightmarish left-back game, put Japan back in the race for automatic qualification. They looked more like themselves and deserved the win and now what could have been a two-horse race for the top two is contested by three – all due respect Oman.
2. Hope flies for the United Arab Emirates
The UAE’s 2-2 draw against Iraq in Dubai was crazy business and the emotions in the end can only be guessed.
Brazilian Caio Canedo Correa didn’t really make the expected difference for his adopted country, but in this game he put the Whites ahead. However, after 93 minutes, Dick Advocaat’s Iraq was on course for a famous victory before a late equalizer from Ali Mabkhout. There was still time for the video assistant referee to rule out what could have been a crucial winner for Bert van Marwijk’s men.
Once all of the chaos, drama and excitement is gone, the UAE still has just three points in the first four games. Five points behind second-placed South Korea is not where they want to be if there are serious hopes of finishing in the top two.
Having said that, there is still time and one more chance. If Van Marwijk led the UAE to victory in South Korea in November, the race for second place would be on. Defeat will stifle almost all hopes.
3. Lebanon and Oman on the rise
Before the start of the final qualifying phase, few would have predicted that after the first four games Lebanon and Oman would be in third place in Groups A and B, respectively.
As the clock reached 45 minutes, Syria led Lebanon 1-0, but that all changed when the lowest-ranked team in the group caught fire. Both goals came from Mohammed Kdouh. The first was a close-range effort to complete a smooth movement and the second, moments later, was a town crier from outside the area who flew into the top corner. Soony Saad’s low shot early in the second half made it 3-1.
Omar Al-Somah pulled one out and Syria hit the bar with the last action of the match and then, once the final whistle sounded, it looked like Lebanon had won the World Cup. Players stood in a circle, bounced, danced and celebrated with their fans. There hasn’t been much to celebrate in Lebanon in recent years, but it was a game to bring much-needed smiles to citizens around the world.
Oman was also impressive coming back from a goal against Vietnam and securing a second victory in four games to overtake Japan in third place on the scoring goals.
4. Iraq has problems
It was a strange day for Iraq. The Mesopotamian Lions were minutes away from a huge 2-1 win in Dubai but ended up thanking VAR for the 2-2 draw. Having three points in four games doesn’t do much good for their chances of automatic qualification, but third place is still only two points away.
The planned return home in November should help but what does not help are the rumors circulating that the Iraqi federation does not want the coach Advocat to select certain foreign players. True or not, Iraq needs all the help it can get to qualify. The results haven’t been good enough so far, but there is still time to improve. Not a lot of time, however.
5. Syria contributes to epic qualifying day of action
This writer has been watching Asian World Cup qualifiers for the past century and it’s hard to remember such an entertaining day. All 12 teams scored and there were all kinds of spectacular goals, VAR interventions and talking points.
Syria 2-3 Lebanon came as a surprise and it was suspected that Syria had underestimated the lowest ranked team in the group. If so, they did a great service to watch neutrals because it was a game that had it all. If there are still people around complaining about international breaks, then they should be forced to watch 90 minutes of big goals, scrambles and a whole host of missed opportunities.
The defeat leaves Syria in despair with a single point in four games and automatic qualifying hopes over. Indeed, a repeat of third place at the same stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup will only be considered if the defense improves.