Japan beats Syria 2-1 in Olympic qualifier

Japan beats Syria 2-1 in Olympic qualifier

TOKYO - Agence France-Presse

Japan clinched victory in the dying minutes against Syria yesterday in the Group C Asian zone qualifying match for the London 2012 Olympics, lifting the team top of the table after three straight wins.

Forward Yuki Otsu’s diving header with just four minutes left put Japan on nine points to lead the group, while Syria lies in second place on six points and Bahrain and Malaysia both stay rooted at the bottom with no points.

“I felt (Yusuke) Higa would send a nice cross to me. Since I went to Germany, I learned that I must be always ready for a cross. We needed a goal as soon as possible, so I was ready for it,” said the 21-year-old Otsu.

“This stadium was where I bade farewell to my fans before going to Germany. I’m really happy to help the team win (here). I’ll do my best to qualify for the Olympics,” said Otsu, who plays his club football in the Bundesliga.

Syria misses early scoring chance

Syria had its first scoring chance in the 10th minute when midfielder Mohammed Fares hit a free kick into the area, but forward Nassouh Nakkdahli headed the ball wide.

The Japanese created a handful of early chances, with Otsu’s shot blocked by a defender and midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi’s goal attempt off a Syrian clearance narrowly going wide, but they broke the deadlock at the end of the first half. From a short corner, midfielder Takahiro Ogihara sent the ball into the area and defender Mizuki Hamada headed home on the stroke of halftime.

Both teams played aggressively after the break, creating a host of chances, but just as Japan turned up the heat, Syria’s Omar Al Suma dribbled through three defenders into the area and struck home to level 1-1 in the 75th minute.

In the final 15-minute scramble, Otsu’s diving header in the 86th minute kept Japan’s 100 percent record in qualifying, in tact, to the delight of the home crowd.