2020 AFC U23 Championship: Japan suffer shock exit after being stunned by Syria

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Japan have suffered an embarrassing group-stage exit with a game to spare at the 2020 AFC U23 Championship after falling to a shock 2-1 loss to Syria on Sunday.

After the Syrians took a 9th-minute lead at the Thammasat Stadium through an Abd Al-Rahman Barakat penalty, Japan looked to have got back on track when Yuki Soma equalised in the 30th minute.

But Japan’s inability to do much with all their possession proved costly as Alaa Aldin Dali delivered a sucker punch in the 88th minute to win it for the Syrians.

AFC U23 Championship Highlights – Syria vs Japan

The result – coupled with a 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia on Thursday – means that there is no way Japan can finish inside the top two of Group B and reach the knockout round, a shock outcome considering they will be hosting the 2020 Olympic Games later this year.

Having had every right to feel aggrieved at the manner in which they lost their opening match to Saudi Arabia, with the 88th-minute winner coming via controversial penalty award, the Japanese would have felt a sense of déjà vu with just eight minutes on the clock on Sunday.

Unlike on Thursday, where the initial penalty award was confirmed upon consultation with the Video Assistant Referee, this time play was allowed to continue following a corner before referee Ali Sabah was alerted to an incident where Koki Machida caught Fares Al-Arnaout’s face with a high boot.

Abd Al-Rahman Barakat makes no mistake from the penalty spot.

Upon reviewing the footage, Sabah pointed straight to the spot and Abd Al-Rahman Barakat clinically found the bottom corner – despite opposition goalkeeper Keisuke Osako guessing the right way – to break the deadlock.

Having entered the tournament as one of the favourites, Japan were staring at the face of two straight defeats and an embarrassing group-stage exit, and were in desperate need of a response.

Fortunately for them, that duly arrived on the half-hour mark when Yuki Soma cut inside from the left and, although his first shot from the edge of the area was blocked, he pounced on the loose ball and drilled away a low effort that went through a sea of players and caught William Ghannam out at his near post.

Yuki Soma celebrates after firing Japan level.

Nonetheless, the expected charge after leveling the scores never arrived from Japan as they largely struggled to break down a resilient Syria defence.

Their best chance arrived in the 83rd minute when Daiki Hashioka’s brilliant right-wing delivery removed the entire Syria defence from the equation, but Ayase Ueda somehow failed to hit the target with only Ghannam to beat from six yards out.

And, with two minutes left on the clock, they were punished by the Syrians, who broke on the counter with real intent and substitute Aldin Dali – who scored a 94th-minute equaliser in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Qatar – emerged as the hero once more.

Picking up possession inside his own half, Aldin Dali burst past Makoto Okazaki and raced 50 yards through on goal before clinically guiding his shot past Osako to seal one of the upsets of the tournament.

SYRIA: William Ghannam, Yousef Al-Hamwi, Fares Al-Arnaout, Yosief Mohammad, Khaled Kurdaghli, Zakria Hannan, Khalil Ibrahim, Kamel Hmeisheh (Zeid Ghrir 82’), Mohamad Al-Hallak (Anas Alaji 64’), Abdelkader Shaban (Alaa Aldin Dali 70’), Abd Al-Rahman Barakat.

JAPAN: Keisuke Osako, Tsuyoshi Watanabe (Yugo Tatsuta 77’), Makoto Okazaki, Koki Machida, Daiki Hashioka, Mitsuki Saito, Taishi Matsumoto, Yuki Soma, Ryotaro Meshino (Kyosuke Tagawa 67’), Tsukasa Morishima (Reo Hatate 86’), Ayase Ueda.