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Japan ride out penalty controversy to beat Syria

Updated: 2011-01-14 11:19
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Japan ride out penalty controversy to beat Syria

Japan's Keisuke Honda (C) celebrates his goal against Syria after taking a penalty kick with teammates Yuto Nagatomo (L) and Daisuke Matsui during their 2011 Asian Cup Group B soccer match at Qatar Sports Club stadium in Doha, Jan 13, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

DOHA - Japan beat Syria 2-1 in an Asian Cup Group B game that exploded into life in the closing stages when each side were awarded a penalty and both teams had a player sent off.

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Japan were seemingly coasting to victory through skipper Makoto Hasebe's 35th minute goal when keeper Eiji Kawashima felled Sanharib Malki who had just been wrongly flagged for offside by the linesman after a mix-up in the Japan defence.

Japan's Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni explained to reporters that "the referee said the Syrian player was not offside, that our player had played the last ball back.

"He sent Kawashima off for the foul, but the linesman was wrong to flag for offside."

The Japan players reacted angrily to the decision and protested that play should have been stopped when the flag went up. However, Iranian referee Torky Mohsen ruled that the game was still active when the foul took place.

"He had a different view to the assistant," said Zaccheroni who added he was relieved to have won. "We played well, we were in control and we are still in the competition," he said.

After Japan regained their discipline following the first seriously controversial incident of the tournament, Kawashima finally walked off and Firas Khatib fired past their substitute keeper Shusaku Nishikawa to make it 1-1 after 76 minutes.

Six minutes later Mohsen awarded Japan a penalty after Shinji Okazaki was sandwiched between defenders Belal Abduldaim and Ali Dyab.

It looked a soft decision but Keisuke Honda scored from the spot to restore Japan's lead.

In the sixth minute of stoppage time, Syria defender Nadim Sabag had a moment of madness when he ran out of the defensive wall and hacked at the ball before Japan took a free-kick. That earned him a second yellow and he walked off shaking his head.

Syria's Romanian coach Valeriu Tita was unhappy about that incident and about conceding the decisive penalty.

"Their goalkeeper deserved the red card but we didn't deserve one," he said. "But I admit, my team started with some fear. They were scared but later on they restored their confidence after Firas came on at halftime.

After playing two matches Japan and Jordan have four points with Syria on three while three-times champions Saudi Arabia were eliminated after their second defeat by Jordan earlier on Thursday.

Syria meet Jordan in their last match on Monday while Japan play the Saudis.

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