Following the stunning loss at the hands of Syria on 5 February 2012, an Ahmad Al Salih goal in the 90th minute condemning Japan to a 2-1 defeat, questions were being asked as to whether the Samurai Blue’s qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games would be as straightforward as had been anticipated.
However, an equally unpredictable match between Bahrain and Syria 17 days later saw the Gulf state emerge victorious, an 89th minute goal from Mohamed Al Alawi giving Bahrain all three points. In equalising in the 86th minute and cancelling out Al Alawi’s opening goal on 12 minutes, Syria would almost certainly have anticipated a draw and taking a single point with one final group game remaining.
Group C is now very finely poised, with only group winners automatically qualifying for the games, the three group runners-up taking place in a play-off round in the form of a mini-league, with the winners of the group facing a further decider against the fourth-placed team from the Confederation of African Nations (CAF) for the final berth at London 2012. Facing Bahrain at home on 14 March, qualification is assured if:
(a) Japan do not lose to Bahrain
(b) Japan lose to Bahrain by fewer than five goals and Syria do not defeat Malaysia
(c) Japan lose to Bahrain and Syria defeat Malaysia, but the margin of Japan’s loss and Syria’s win is less than five goals (or exactly five goals if Syria do not score at least two more goals than Japan
With Malaysia guaranteed to finish in last place in the group, having failed to record a single point in qualification and having conceded a minimum of two goals in each match, the second scenario is the least likely to occur. Syria’s last group game is at home to Malaysia, and a comfortable victory should be expected for the Red Eagles. This means Honma Kazunori’s side cannot afford to rest on their laurels in their remaining fixture, but having defeated Bahrain in September the Samurai Blue will be confident of securing the single point required to be assured of featuring in the London games.