Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu urged his side to build on the 2-1 win over Australia that jolted their World Cup qualifying campaign into life as Son Heung-min scored in South Korea’s 1-1 draw with Iran on Tuesday.
Japan went into the crunch home match having lost two of their opening three games in Group B, but took three crucial points thanks to an 85th-minute own goal from Australia’s Aziz Behich.
Japan still trail Australia and Saudi Arabia in the battle for the group’s two automatic spots for Qatar 2022, but the win blew Group B wide open and ended the visitors’ record of 11 straight victories in one World Cup qualifying campaign.
Group A is tight though after Tottenham star Son Heung-min scored for South Korea before they conceded with 14 minutes remaining against Iran.
Embattled Japan boss Moriyasu said: “We kept fighting until the end and never gave up. We are determined to get to the World Cup and we showed that tonight.
“It was a great win but we still have a lot of tough games to come. We have to make sure we use this win and build on it.”
Japanese media had speculated that Moriyasu could lose his job unless his side beat in-form Australia, and the manager made a special point of applauding fans after the final whistle in Saitama.
“It was a very difficult game, but the fact that the players kept going to the end was down to the support they got from the crowd,” he said.
Ao Tanaka gave Japan the perfect start in the eighth minute, only for Australia’s Ajdin Hrustic to equalise with a 69th-minute free-kick.
But Behich turned the ball into his own net with five minutes remaining, after Takuma Asano’s shot hit the post.
Takumi Minamino played a cross that Behich failed to cut out for Japan’s opener, and Tanaka was on hand to drill the ball past goalkeeper Maty Ryan.
But the Socceroos hit back in the second half, and thought they had been awarded a penalty when Hidemasa Morita tripped Hrustic.
The referee changed the decision to a free kick on the edge of the box after a VAR review, but Hrustic slammed the ball past Shuichi Gonda regardless.
Japan went in search of a winner, with Ryan denying Junya Ito and substitute Kyogo Furuhashi before Behich scored an own goal.
Saudis in control
There was no stopping Saudi Arabia as they pipped China 3-2 for their fourth straight victory to take a three-point lead over Australia atop Group B.
Sami al-Najei netted a first-half brace for the Arab giants in Jeddah while Firas al-Birakan added a third in Jeddah.
Second-half goals from Aloisio and Wu Xi gave the Chinese little consolation as they crashed to their third defeat and remain a spot ahead of bottom-placed Vietnam who fell 3-1 to Oman on Tuesday.
Nguyen Tien Linh stunned Oman with a 39th minute strike but the hosts hit back with three goals in a span of seven minutes to clinch their second win with Issam al-Sabhi, Mohsin al-Khaldi and Salah al-Yahyaei on Target.
In Group A, Lebanon rallied from a goal down to shock Syria 3-2 with Mohamed Kadouh scoring twice in first-half stoppage time.
Omar Khribin put the Syrians ahead in the 20th minute before Kadouh’s twin-strikes and Soony Saad’s 53rd minute goal saw Lebanon take an 3-1.
Star striker Omar al-Somah gave the Syrians some home with a 64th minute strike but Lebanon defended stoutly for their first win in four matches.
Meanwhile, a second-half stoppage time goal by Ali Ahmed Mabkhout helped UAE hold Iraq to a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Ciao’s first-half goal for the UAE was canceled out by an own goal by Mohamed Omar in the 74th minute before Aymen Hussein’s strike put Iraq ahead one minute from time.
But UAE talisman Mabkhout rescued a point for the Emiratis by booting home the equaliser from point-blank range off a cross from Waleed Abbas.