AFC U23 Championship: Saudi Arabia impress as they make Japan pay the penalty

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Japan were made to pay the penalty in their 2020 AFC U23 Championship Group B opener after falling to a 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia at the Thammasat Stadium.

Despite heading into Thursday’s match as underdogs, it was Saudi Arabia who got off to the more positive start and could have broken the deadlock in the first half if not for the heroics of Japan goalkeeper Keisuke Osako, who made a couple of fine saves to deny Abdullah Al-Hamdan and Abdulrahman Ghareeb.

But, three minutes after the break, the Green Falcons duly took the lead when Ghareeb cleverly danced his way past a handful of defenders through the middle before the ball broke to Ayman Al-Khulaif, who made no mistake in drilling in a shot just inside the far post.

Stunned at falling behind and having been lacklustre thus far, Japan immediately looked for a response and it took them just eight minutes to level the scores.

Finding space on the edge of the area, Ryotaro Meshino opted to try his luck with a right-footed effort that ricocheted off the chest of Hassan Tombakti before sailing past a wrongfooted Mohammed Al-Yami.

As the game entered its closing stages, the Japanese looked the likelier of the two sides to find the winner, but there was one final twist with five minutes remaining.

A lapse in concentration from Makoto Okazaki saw him let the ball roll in behind him only to allow Firas Al-Buraikan to race through on goal and – in a desperate bid to make amends – he clipped the heels of the Saudi Arabia substitute inside the area to concede a penalty.

Although Osako had largely been in heroic form up till then, he was unable to come to Japan’s rescue one final time despite going the right way, as Ghareeb clinically found the bottom corner with his spot-kick to win it for Saudi and condemn their opponents to their first-ever group-stage defeat in AFC U23 Championship history.

JAPAN: Keisuke Osako, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, Makoto Okazaki, Taiyo Koga, Daiki Hashioka, Ao Tanaka, Shunta Tanaka, Daiki Sugioka (Yuki Soma 90+1’), Reo Hatate (Kyosuke Tagawa 90+1’), Ryotaro Meshino, Koki Ogawa (Ayase Ueda 72’).

SAUDI ARABIA: Mohammed Al-Yami, Saud Abdulhamid, Abdulelah Al-Amri, Hassan Tombakti, Abdulbassit Hindi, Khaled Al-Dubaish, Nasser Al-Omran (Ali Al-Hassan 78’), Mukhtar Ali, Ayman Al-Khulaif (Firas Al-Buraikan 66’), Abdulrahman Ghareeb, Abdullah Al-Hamdan (Hussain Al-Eisa 73’).