SYDNEY: Keisuke Honda’s penalty earned profligate Japan a 1-0 win over Iraq as Jordan’s reserve striker Hamza Aldaradreh hit four against Palestine at the Asian Cup.
AC Milan’s Honda juddered the woodwork three times but he remained the hero of the hour for the defending champions with a nerveless spot-kick in the first half.
At a hot and sticky Brisbane Stadium, there will be concerns over the finishing of the four-time winners who are still to guarantee their quarter-final spot.
“Iraq defended well and we could not penetrate,” said Japan’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre, who is battling match-fixing claims from his time working in Spain.
“We had at least two or three chances to make a difference but we couldn’t score. But our rhythm of attack, we played with one or two touches, effective play.”
There were no such problems for Jordan, whose third-choice striker Aldaradreh shot to the top of the scoring charts and kept Jordan’s Group D hopes alive in a 5-1 win.
Aldaradreh only started because Ahmad Hayel was recovering after vomiting and falling unconscious during a doping test, an incident which drew a protest from Jordanian officials.
“I go back to 1966 when England won the World Cup – Jimmy Greaves was one of the best centre-forwards in the world and Sir Alf Ramsey had to make a choice to keep Geoff Hurst in,” Wilkins told reporters.
“It panned out quite nicely for England. Hamza was probably my third choice and now he’s given me a horrible bloody headache which I’ve got to try and sort out. But I’m delighted for him and delighted for the lads as well.”
Hamza converted Abdallah Deeb’s cross-shot on 35 minutes and added a second just before half-time, and another two after the break in what was the tournament’s first hat-trick.
He became only the fourth man to score four in a match at the Asian Cup, after Iran’s Betash Fariba and Ali Daei in 1980 and 1996, and Bahrain’s Ismaeel Abdul Latif in 2011.
Palestine exit at the earliest opportunity but it wasn’t all bleak for the debutant as Jaka Hbaisha became their first Asian Cup goal-scorer with an emphatic finish on 85 minutes.
The result gave Jordan coach Wilkins a huge lift with the Englishman under fire after failing to arrest the team’s slide since taking over last September.
At the later kick-off in Brisbane, Honda was guilty of a glaring miss when he hit the post in the second half with the goal begging – his third encounter with the woodwork.
However, he managed the decisive kick of the game with his well-taken penalty, when he sent Jalal Hassan the wrong way and rolled the ball into the opposite corner.
Japan’s movement off the ball was superb, with Honda and Takashi Inui constantly finding space in the centre of the pitch.
Substitute Hiroshi Kiyotake had two chances in quick succession and Shinji Okazaki put a diving header over late on, but Japan were rarely threatened at the other end.
The Blue Samurai will be favourites to progress to the quarter-finals alongside Iraq in their final Group D games against Jordan and Palestine respectively.--AFP