Golden boys Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa fired holders Japan into the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday as Iraq again owed a debt of gratitude to evergreen striker Younis Mahmoud.
AC Milan’s Honda ran riot in the 2-0 win over Jordan, scoring the opener and hitting the post late on, while Kagawa got his first of the tournament late in the game.
Japan, who have won four of the last six Asian Cup titles, reached the last eight without conceding a goal and they will face Mahdi Ali’s stylish UAE side in Sydney on Friday.
“It was an intense game,” Japan coach Javier Aguirre told reporters. “We had to give maximum effort but we deserved to win. Now everything starts from zero again. All the eight teams in the quarter-finals have equal opportunity to win the tournament.”
Iraq, meanwhile, found Palestine a tough nut to crack but Mahmoud revived memories of his famous winner in the 2007 final when he climbed to nod the opener from a corner.
The clubless veteran disappointingly missed a second-half spot-kick but Ahmeed Yaseen sealed a 2-0 victory with a powerful low drive two minutes from time.
Iraq next take on neighbours and three-time champions Iran in Canberra in a quarter-final which pitches together two of Asian football‘s fiercest rivals.
“Younis is such an experienced player and so positive for the team,” said Iraq’s caretaker boss Radhi Shenaishil. “He is the player that everyone in the team thinks is a star. I think tonight was the most time he’s spent on the pitch this tournament.”
In Melbourne, Japan dominated the first half and Takashi Inui seemed to have blasted them ahead early on, but the ball was ruled to have gone into touch moments earlier.
But the Blue Samurai went ahead on 24 minutes when Shinji Okazaki’s venomous shot was parried to Honda and the blond talisman snapped up the rebound for his third in three games.
– ‘Head spinning’ –
Okazaki blasted into the side-netting as Aguirre’s men pressed, but Jordan came out a side refreshed after the break, pushing Japan back in their best spell of the game.
However, the reigning champions soon regained the upper hand and Yasuhito Endo nearly marked his 151st cap with a goal, but his fierce drive fizzed over.
Honda had the ball in the net in the 58th minute, before it was chalked off for offside, and he then tested the busy goalkeeper Amer Shafi from the edge of the box.
But it was Kagawa who had the last word for Japan when he side-footed substitute Yoshinori Muto’s cross with enough power to go in off goalkeeper Shafi.
Honda came just inches from his fourth of the tournament, which would have made him joint top-scorer, when he rattled the upright in the dying seconds.
“We didn’t have too many opportunities,” said Jordan coach Ray Wilkins. “It was very difficult to get the ball off them. My head’s still spinning, their footballis of a very, very high standard.”
Iraq dominated possession against Palestine in a boisterous first half, which saw some tough tackling and a bloody nose for Iraqi Saad Abdulamaeer, but were unable to find a way past Palestine.
The match came to life at the start of the second half and Mahmoud leapt high to bury his header from a corner and give Iraq the lead.
The referee then pointed to the spot for a shove on American-based Justin Meram, but Mahmoud’s tame spot-kick was within range for stand-in goalkeeper Tawfiq Abudhammad who dived correctly to his left.
It was a full-blooded affair, but Iraq’s number nine Yaseen put the result beyond doubt with an unerring finish. – Agence France-Presse