After a very entertaining match with some incredible talking points, Japan restored their winning ways as they were given a real fight by challengers Syria.
As the game started, Japan looked the more likely to score first, and they nearly did just that on 11 minutes. A cross from the left by Atsuto Uchida found the head of Ryoichi Maeda in the box, but with the keeper rooted to the ground he headed the ball less than an inch wide, as Syria escaped by the skin of their teeth. Syria had few chances in the first-half as Japan dominated possession, but struggled to break through a well-organised defence. Keisuke Honda came close to heading the Japanese into the lead but a strong punch from goalkeeper Mosab Balhous denied him the chance, getting some of Honda also. Syria eventually got two dangerous crosses in succession, but came to no avail, and eventually it was Japan who scored first.
Honda launched a counter-attack from midfield, running into the box and causing chaos in the defence, as they scrambled to stop the attack. A great save from Balhous found Makoto Hasebe on the edge of the box, as he slotted it through the crowd to give Japan a much-deserved lead. Japan went in at half-time in control, but that would soon change.
Syrian star Firas Al-Khatib was again inexplicably left on the bench, but came on at half-time and gave Syria a real spark for the opening 10 minutes of the second-half, although it was Japan who came closest to scoring with a last-gap intervention from Balhous and defender Nadim Sabagh combining to deny the goal. The game then settled down with very little incident, but then after exactly 70 minutes, chaos ensued.
A desperate back-pass for Japan left goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima scrambling as he tried to clear it from an oncoming player. Instead he found another Syrian player who got the ball back to the player near the keeper. Kawashima brought him down and the referee awarded a penalty, but the linesman simultaneously ruled the Syrian player offside. After two minutes of deliberation, it was finally decided that the ball came off a Japanese player, meaning he was indeed onside. The penalty was eventually awarded, and Kawashima was given a red card. Five minutes after the original whistle blew, Al-Khatib converted the penalty, with new goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa coming agonisingly close to saving it diving to his right. The incident gave firm momentum to Syria, but like a pendulum it would soon swing back to Japan.
Syrian defender Bwrhan Sahiwni was ajudged to have brought down a player in the box, and Honda stepped up to take it. Hitting the ball down the centre of the goal, it went through the keeper’s legs as he dived to the left, restoring Japan’s lead. Syria went in search of another equaliser, but none was forthcoming.
Things got worse for Syria as Nadim Sabagh was sent off in bizarre circumstances. Sabagh got his first yellow card after conceding a free-kick on the edge of his box. As Japan got set to take the free, a Japanese player put his foot on the ball. Sabagh, thinking the free had now been taken, ran to retrieve possession, but was instead given his second yellow card in two minutes, as both teams finished with 10 men.
Japan will now face Saudi Arabia, who shockingly are already eliminated from the group, on January 17th, where the result will determine whether the UFWC will make it to the Quarter-Finals or not.