Japan 1-1 United Arab Emirates (AET- UAE win 5-4 on penalties)- UAE pull off incredible shock
Muto goes agonisingly close to scoring. Image Credit: sbs.com

Ali Mabhkhout gave the UAE a surprise lead in under 10 minutes as Japan struggled to break down their resolute defence. Eventually they did thanks to susbtitute Gaku Shibasaki but star men Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa both missed penalties in the shootout as Japan suffered a shock early exit.

These two countries share close ties when it comes to trade but they also share common ideas when it comes to the field of play. Both teams like energetic, creative midfielders, Japan have Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, whilst the UAE have Omar Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman, who plays club football for Al Ain in the UAE, has been coveted by many of Europe’s top clubs like Arsenal and Barcelona.

Both looked comfortable in the group stages, Japan were really only tested by Iraq whilst the UAE comfortably beat Qatar but lost narrowly to Iran right at the death to sacrifice top spot in the group. One surprise from the Japanese side has been the consistency of Javier Aguirre’s team selection even against Palestine. He has started each game with the exact same starting 11 which central defender Maya Yoshida thinks is a good thing; “We are getting better every day and understand each other better every day”.

One man who was a big disappointment in this game was Shinji Kagawa. The 25-year old has not had the return to form hoped for when completed his return to Borussia Dortmund last summer but got himself a goal against Jordan and teammate Yuto Nagatomo had this to say; “I saw he was happy when he scored this goal… I hope he can come up from under that pressure and score more goals”. In spite of this he failed to deliver once again missing the crucial penalty and several goal-scoring opportunities. It looked like Japan were going to control the game from the beginning when after only 2 minutes Takashi Inui cut inside from left and curled an effort towards the bottom corner. However Majed Naser pushed it wide and that’s when they sprung one of the biggest surprises of the tournaments.

Ali Mabhkhout had two chances in quick succession, for the first he was set free down the left before he overran his touch allowing Eiji Kawashima to smother the ball. He didn’t make a mistake with his second chance. He controlled the ball beautifully inside the box and fired across goal causing the Japanese to concede their first goal of the tournament.

Japan had several chances but their finishing was extremely poor, Honda fired over from a Nagatomo cross and Inui headed straight at the keeper from a decent position. In the 25th minute Ismail Al Hammadi was booked for one of the most of the blatant handballs you are ever likely to see. Japan kept up their pressure and possession but still couldn’t find a way to break down the UAE defence. Yasuhito Endo had the best chance when they dispossessed the UAE quite high up but he could only fire over.

Honda was the only Japanese player in the first half he could be happy with his performance and he had the last opportunity of the half when he cut inside from the right hand side and fired into the side-netting. At half time Yoshinori Muto came on for Takashi Inui.

The UAE nearly got the second half to a brilliant start as Omar Abdulrahman delightfully lifted the ball over the Japanese defence into the path of Mabhkhout who hit his shot on the slide but Kawashima reacted quickly and palmed it away. Muto nearly got his game off to a flyer as he drove towards the box before firing just wide of the upright. He then spurned an even better opportunity when he headed wide from a brilliant cross by Endo.

At that point Endo came off for Shibasaki in what would turn out to be a significant substitution. The UAE had a couple of counter attacks but the fullbacks, Nagatomo and Gotoku Sakai, covered superbly displaying great pace. Captain Makoto Hasebe then had a header cleared off the line by Abdulaziz Haikal from a corner. The Champions continued to waste their great build up with poor finishing. Substitute striker Yohei Toyoda missed a sitter of a header in the 74th minute but Japan wouldn’t regret it for long.

In the 80th minute Shibasaki was on the ball outside the area. He played it quickly to Honda on the edge of the box before darting forward, a run that Honda saw and immediately gave his teammate the ball back. Shibasaki hit it first time and it flew into the bottom corner to bring his side level. That seemed to light a fire in Japan as they went up a couple of gears immediately after. Muto had a chance in the box but he hit the ground before the ball and it bounced wide.

Then he and Kagawa linked up to allow the Dortmund midfielder to have a shot that was parried by Naser to the edge of the box. Hasebe flew in and smacked the ball towards goal but it was blocked by Mohanad Al Enezi Salem on the ground. Honda had a free kick but it was straight at the keeper. Their best chance to win it in 90 minutes fell to Kagawa after Japan’s best move of the game. Honda found Muto inside the box before the FC Tokyo man fired it cross. The cross was blocked but fell to Kagawa who from 8 yards out put it wide; even though he was under pressure he should’ve done better.

The first half of extra time was much like the majority of the previous 90 with Japan having most of the possession but unable to break down the UAE. Masato Morishige had a header blocked in the 107th minute by the defender in front of him at a corner before he couldn’t react quick enough to a ball fired in by Kagawa.

It wasn’t enough for Japan and the game went to penalties. Nagatomo deserves a honourable mention as he had cramp for pretty much the whole of extra time and for the second half of extra time he stood just outside the opposition penalty area, as he couldn’t move.

Honda took the first penalty and it was high, wide and none too pretty. Then Omar Abdulrahman showed him how it was done by executing the perfect panenka penalty. Khamis Esmaeel missed his penalty for the UAE meaning the each time had 4 out of the first 5 and it was on to sudden death. Kagawa was the first take his and he struck the post which meant that if Ismail Ahmed scored then the UAE were through. He did just that squeezing it inside the post to send the UAE players in rapturous celebrations.