Muscat – Junya Ito struck nine minutes from time to earn Japan a 1-0 win over Oman in Group B of the AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar in Muscat on Tuesday to take the Samurai Blue into second place in the standings with only four games remaining.
The win moves the Japanese a point clear of Australia, who were held to a 1-1 draw by China PR in Sharjah earlier in the evening, with Saudi Arabia now four points clear at the top of the standings. Oman remain in fourth on seven points.
The top two finishers in the group will qualify automatically for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 while the third placed side will advance into a series of playoffs for a possible fifth Asian berth.
Ito’s goal earned Japan a third win in a row and avenged their loss to the Omanis in Osaka in September as Moriyasu’s team finally pick up momentum along the road to Qatar 2022.
With Hidemasa Morita suspended, Gaku Shibasaki returned to the midfield for a Japan side that was otherwise unchanged from the team that defeated Vietnam on Thursday, but who struggled to break down Oman’s disciplined defence.
Yuya Osako mistimed his header a quarter of an hour into the game while Yuto Nagatomo’s deep cross from the left was sent well off target by an unmarked Ito. Nine minutes before the break, Ito forced Ahmed Al Khamisi to head over his own crossbar in a tepid opening 45 minutes.
Kaoru Mitoma’s introduction at the start of the second half for Shibasaki invigorated the Japanese, however, and within minutes of the restart Ao Tanaka was firing over the bar from the edge of the area.
Mitoma’s pace and trickery were at the heart of Japan’s best move four minutes into the half when he dribbled into the area before feeding Tanaka. While his shot was partially blocked, the ball fell to Osako before popping up at the feet of Takumi Minamino, who agonisingly rolled his attempt across the face of an open goal.
For all Japan’s growing dominance, the Omanis still carried a threat on the break. Arshad Al Alawi’s drive from distance was only narrowly wide of Shuichi Gonda’s right post.
At the other end, Yuta Nakayama’s attempt was deflected over the bar and Maya Yoshida’s header from the resulting corner was comfortably dealt with by Faiyz Al Rashidi, but the Japanese were edging closer and, with nine minutes to go, they finally took the lead.
It was Mitoma who dragged the ball clear of the Omani defence before delivering an inviting cross for Ito in the centre and the Belgium-based winger could not miss from inside the six yard box.
Japan will play China PR when the AFC Asian Qualifiers resume in January with Oman to face Saudi Arabia.