Japan departed the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex with three valuable away points, but were very fortunate to leave with a win that leaves them all but assured of a berth at the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals. The Samurai Blue will automatically qualify in the next round of matches provided they beat Jordan away on 26 March, or secure a point and Australia and Oman share the spoils in their qualification game on the same day.
Shinji Okazaki scored the winning goal in the 89th minute, Gotoku Sakai’s burst of acceleration down the left flank allowing him to whip a cross which Yashuhito Endo got a foot to, and the VfB Stuttgart made sure of the finish from two yards. Okazaki’s 29th goal for his country came in his 58th appearance, mirroring precisely the ratio of Hiromi Hara, who sits one place above him in the goalscoring charts for Japan with 38 from 76.
Precisely ten minutes had been played when Fawzi Bashir wasted a glorious opportunity to give the hosts the lead, Japan’s lack of concentration allowing him to ghost in towards the back of the penalty area after Ismail Al Ajmi’s run wasn’t tracked from a quickly taken throw-in, but with goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima going to ground, the Omani midfielder could only direct his shot over the crossbar.
Hiroshi Kiyotake instead put the visitors in front ten minutes later, rifling a left-footed shot into the net after Abdul Al Makhaini diverted Yuto Nagatomo’s cross into his path.
Al Ajmi’s superb header with ten minutes remaining of the first period deserved better, but instead it found the left upright, bouncing against Kawashima and dribbling agonisingly along the goalline until Nagatomo cleared away.
The home side had their reward in the 77th minute, Ahmed Mubarak’s 20-yard free-kick curling under Japan’s defensive wall and beyond the outstretched hand of the Japan goalkeeper. Okazaki would have the last word, however, and Japan now sit eight points of their nearest challengers, undefeated and having conceded just two goals in total.
(Match played 14 November 2012)