Japan were defeated 1-0 by hosts Saudi Arabia late on Tuesday night in their final match of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifications.
With their ticket to Russia already clinched following their 2-0 win against Australia on August 31, Vahid Halilhodzic’s back line and midfield remained largely unchanged while overseas-based attackers such as Hertha Berlin’s Genki Haraguchi were rotated into the starting XI.
Japan were superior in the first half, regularly creating chances in the Saudi end. Hotaru Yamaguchi unleashed a blistering shot in the 40th minute, forcing a good save by Saudi goalkeeper Abdullah Al Maiouf.
The visitors piled on more pressure in the second half, but Saudi Arabia found their way onto the scoreboard first when Fahad Al Muwallad hammered home from inside the penalty area unmarked.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s men were unable to present a response in the remaining half-hour as the West Asian side clinched World Cup qualification in front of 60,000 fans at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.
The final Group B table saw Japan finish in first and Saudi Arabia in second, with third-place Australia advancing to the continental play-off against Group A counterparts Syria who finished behind Iran and South Korea.