Japan fall to Iraq, look to bounce back at AFC Asian Cup

Japan fall to Iraq, look to bounce back at AFC Asian Cup

Japan’s AFC Asian Cup campaign hit a speed bump on Friday as the Samurai Blue lost to Iraq, 2-1, in their second group stage match.

The loss leaves the Samurai Blue on three points ahead of their January 24 group stage finale against Indonesia. If they win, they will clinch second place in the group and a spot in the knockout stages.

Aymen Hussein put Iraq in front early, heading home after just five minutes.

Giveaways proved to be a problem for the Samurai Blue throughout the first half. They struggled to win second balls, which hurt them badly in added time when Iraq won a 50/50 ball in the middle of the pitch, broke down the left and found Hussein in front of goal for his second of the game.

The second half went much better for the Samurai Blue with Junya Ito proving to be a constant threat down the left, but they couldn’t turn those forays into a goal.

Set pieces were especially dangerous for Japan. They nearly scored on several occasions, with Ritsu Doan in particular just missing twice.

Japan’s breakthrough came as Wataru Endo nodded home a corner kick in stoppage time. The Samurai Blue had life and continued pushing, earning yet another corner kick. Once again, it was dangerous and the scramble in the box saw Japan have multiple chances to put the ball in the back of the net, but Iraq blocked their attempts bravely before Doan fired off target.

When the final whistle went, Japan may have felt hard done by the result. They had come on strong and could have very easily taken a point, but it was not to be and their 11-match win streak had come to an end.

A win against Indonesia will set everything right, though, and Japan are still very much in the fight for a record fifth Asian Cup.