Tsukasa Shiotani’s sizzling winner on Thursday kept Japan on top of their Asian Cup group, while Oman scrambled into the knockouts in a pulsating finish to the tournament’s first stage.
In Abu Dhabi, Almoez Ali took his tally to seven goals in three games as Qatar beat political rivals Saudi Arabia 2-0, but Lebanon failed to progress despite their 4-1 win over North Korea.
The 36-game group stage finished with holders Australia facing a last-16 clash with Uzbekistan, while Qatar are to play Iraq and Japan will face Saudi Arabia.
Hosts the United Arab Emirates are to play Kyrgyzstan, China are against Thailand, Iran have Oman, Son Heung-min’s South Korea are to face Bahrain and Jordan will take on Vietnam.
Shiotani’s rocket ensured Japan finished with a perfect nine points at the top of Group F as they beat Uzbekistan 2-1, despite changing 10 players from their previous game.
Eldor Shomurodov opened the scoring with a fine individual goal, but Uzbekistan’s lead lasted only three minutes before Newcastle United forward Yoshinori Muto’s header made it 1-1.
Japanese pressure early in the second half resulted in a thunderous winner from Shiotani, who unfurled a rippling strike just before the hour mark.
“It wasn’t a risk” to change 10 players, Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “I wanted to use these players today. We now have some tough games waiting for us, so I think it was good that I could use these players and get them match-fit.”
Oman kept their hopes alive with a last-gasp 3-1 win over Turkmenistan to go through as one of the best-performing third-placed teams, behind Japan and Uzbekistan in Group F.
Meanwhile, Qatar overcame a hostile stadium to beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 and finish top of Group E.
“I want to congratulate our players and all of Qatar. It was a great performance and we showed great team spirit and quality,” Qatar coach Felix Sanchez Bas said.
“Finishing first is good for our confidence so I’m very proud of my players. Now it gets very hard so we don’t consider ourselves favorites,” he added. “It will be very tough to beat Iraq.”
With Qatar in the midst of a blockade by its Gulf neighbors, the Qatari national anthem was drowned out by boos from a pro-Saudi Arabia crowd and the 2022 World Cup hosts were jeered every time they attacked.
Qatar captain Hasan al-Haydos missed a penalty in the 42nd minute, but Ali made no mistake in first-half stoppage time.
He calmly slotted past Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais to stun the partisan crowd and become the first player to score six goals in a single Asian Cup since South Korea’s Lee Dong-gook in 2000.
Ali then headed in his seventh goal of the tournament 10 minutes from time, celebrating with a jig that further antagonized the crowd.
In Sharjah, Lebanon needed to beat North Korea by four to clinch a place in the knockouts as one of the best third-placed teams, and came agonizingly close with their 4-1 win.
Pak Kwang-ryong’s early free-kick gave North Korea their first and only goal of the tournament and it proved critical as Lebanon’s four were not quite enough to get them over the line.
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