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Football: Asian Cup, Group D – Japan, Iraq storm into last eight

Keisuke Honda scored for the third straight game as Japan beat Jordan 2-0 to top Group A. Photos:

Keisuke Honda scored for the third straight game as Japan beat Jordan 2-0 to top Group A. Photos:

January 20, 2015: Japan and Iraq secured their places in the AFC Asian Cup knockout stage with 2-0 wins over Jordan and Palestine respectively on Tuesday, completing the quarter-final line-up in Australia.


On Thursday, Group A winners Korea Republic will face Uzbekistan in Melbourne before Australia host Group B winners China in Brisbane. The following day, Group C winners Iran tackle neighbours Iraq in a mouth-watering clash in Canberra before Group D winners Japan, the reigning champions, will face UAE in Sydney.


Keisuke Honda said he believes Japan have multiple tactical options for the coming matches, after the forward scored his third goal in as many games to help the defending champions defeat Jordan. Shinji Kagawa was also on target at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as Japan completed a 100 per cent record in Group D and next head to Sydney to face the UAE.


“I believe we need to have more options available to us, but we need to think that through as a team or it won’t amount to anything. Individually we all have our own thoughts, but there is a limit to how much you can improve the team on a personal level,” said Honda, who has played for AC Milan since last year.


“Moving forward in the competition, anything can happen in football and if we do concede the first goal we will need to score two goals. If we can’t play a certain style to make this happen, then we have to think about what other options we will have available to us, but we want to already have these thought out before so it doesn’t become a crisis after we concede. I believe this squad has enough depth and experience that both myself and the other players can provide those options, so even mid-game we can talk and change up our play.”


Despite only needing to avoid defeat against Jordan, coach Javier Aguirre kept faith with the same starting 11 for the third consecutive game, and the move paid off with Japan’s third clean sheet of the tournament extending their winning run to six games.


Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said: “I believe that it’s important to maintain stability throughout the squad and in our play, but we have trust in our substitutes that allows us to maintain control of the game.”


The UAE were forced to settle for a second place finish in Group C, having lost a tight encounter 1-0 to table-toppers Iran on Monday, but earlier wins over Gulf Cup champions Qatar and Bahrain had already secured their first quarter-final appearance since reaching the final in 1996. Mahdi Ali’s 2013 Gulf Cup champions are one of the most improved sides in the region in recent years, with playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and forwards Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil among their star players.


Younus Mahmood celebrates scoring against Palestine as Iraq secured their place in the quarter-finals.

Younus Mahmood celebrates scoring against Palestine as Iraq secured their place in the quarter-finals.

Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil believes his side are capable of replicating the feats of the 2007 Asian Cup-winning team, after a second-half header by veteran striker Younus Mahmood – who later had a penalty saved – and a late striker by Ahmed Yasin secured victory a victory over Palestine in their last group match.


However, the Group D runners-up will face a daunting task when they face arch-rivals Iran, the three-time champions, in their quarter-final on Friday.


“I wish that the 2007 scenario occurs for the Iraq national team again and if we get a positive result against Iran and make it to the semi-final, I’m sure you will find Iraq in the final,” said Shenaishil, the former Iraq defender.


“Of course it is going to be a difficult match as there is a lot of history between us and Iran are a strong team. As a player I’ve played a lot of matches against Iran, especially at the stage where the losing teams will leave the competition, so I’m sure we’re going to see a good game in Canberra on Friday.”


Source: Andrew Mullen / WSG / AFC Asian Cup (; Editing by SportAsia

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