Honda puts Japan in driving seat with winner against Iraq
Keisuke Honda agreed he needed to adjust his radar despite guiding Japan to the top of Group D with a match-winning penalty against Iraq on Friday, putting the defending champions into a prime position to secure a spot in the knockout stages of the Asian Cup.
Japan beat the 2007 champions 1-0 in Brisbane to move to six points, three clear of Iraq and Jordan, which thrashed tournament newcomer Palestine 5-1 in Melbourne to move into quarterfinal contention.
Honda hit the woodwork three times in a game that Japan dominated and said he needed to convert those opportunities in future.
”I will score next game,” Honda, voted player of the match, promised in his post-match news conference.
Hamza Aldaradreh couldn’t miss as he tallied four goals to help Jordan overcome its problems in attack with a handful of goals before Palestine got a consolation in the 85th – its first goal in the continental championship.
That left the group finely poised, with no team yet assured of a spot in the quarterfinals and no team out of contention. One point against Jordan in Melbourne on Tuesday will be enough for Japan to go through regardless of other results. Iraq will play Palestine in Canberra at the same time, and is a hot favorite to win against a team that conceded nine goals in two games before midfielder Jaka Hbaisha scored from a set piece against Jordan after 84 minutes.
Aldaradreh’s scoring touch gave Jordan coach Ray Wilkins a selection dilemma ahead of the Japan match. He was previously third-choice striker behind Odai Al Saify and Ahmad Hayel.
”Now Hamza’s given me a horrible headache that I have to try and sort out,” Wilkins said. ”Nevertheless I’m delighted for him and I’m delighted for the lads as well.”
Jordan opened the scoring in the 33rd minute when midfielder Yousef Ahmad Mohammad gathered a Hamza pass in the area and sent a long, curving strike into the top corner of the net.
Hamza opened his account just over a minute later, and scored his second with a volley in first-half stoppage time.
He raced onto a Deeb pass and sent a low shot into the net in the 75th to get his hat-trick, then scored again five minutes later with a low strike from outside the area.
In the later match, Honda converted from the spot in the 23rd minute after he was dragged down in the area amid challenges by Ali Adnan and Saad Abdulameer as he tried to regain possession following Shinji Kagawa’s blocked close-range shot.
Honda created numerous other opportunities for Japan but lacked the finishing touch.
He got into perfect position to meet a cross from Yuto Nagatomo in the 17th but hit the post with his header. Just after half time, he hit the crossbar with a right-foot strike from the edge of the area and then, in the 65th, he hit the post from close range.
”That’s football, right? I made big chances, so yeah, I am happy to make three chances,” he said, ”but of course I have to score. I have to reflect on that.”
Iraq’s best opportunities came from free kicks and counter attacks, but it only forced two saves from Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishel said Japan was better prepared and his team was still working its way into the tournament, aiming for a big win over Palestine in its last match.
”Of course our ticket to qualifying for the next round will be from this match,” he said. ”Palestine will want to come up with a positive result to leave this competition. It won’t be easy.”
Australia plays two-time champion South Korea on Saturday to determine top spot in Group A. Oman and Kuwait, already out of contention, meet in Newcastle.