A valiant UAE side were triumphant over profligate Japan after penalty kicks in a stunning night at Sydney’s Stadium Australia.
The Emirati were quick to pounce on a tired-looking Japan, and their efforts paid off after just seven minutes when Ali Mabkhout beat the Samurai Blue back line to receive the ball from Amer Abdulrahman in the penalty area and send it whistling past Eiji Kawashima for the first goal of the match.
Japan couldn’t develop a solid response until the 18th minute; Keisuke Honda’s cross was well-met by Takashi Inui’s head but the ball went straight to goalkeeper Majed Naser. The defending champions continued to dominate possession but created few chances, with a sudden activation of supporters behind the goal failing to spur Javier Aguirre’s men on as the first half ended 0-1 to the UAE.
Japan came out of the halftime locker room with Yoshinori Muto replacing Inui, but it was UAE who took the first chance of the half with Omar Abdulrahman nearly beating Kawashima to score his team’s second.
Muto had his first chance of the game moments later when he sent an undefended header wide of the box in the 53rd minute; moments later Gaku Shibasaki relieved Yasuhito Endo while Majed Hassan replaced Amar Abdulrahman.
UAE coach Metref Al Shamisi took a defensive tack with his next substitution, swapping striker Ahmed Khalil for midfielder Habib Al Fardan in the 58th minute. Moments later Shinji Kagawa’s low shot forced a save by Naser, but an expectant crowd continued to wait for a goal from the Samurai Blue.
Sagan Tosu striker Yohei Toyoda replaced a dormant Shinji Okazaki four minutes after the hour mark, emphasising Japan’s desperation for a goal. After countless opportunities wasted, they were finally rewarded for their efforts when Shibasaki blasted a shot just inside the left post to equalise for his team in the 81st minute.
A revitalised Japan continued to pressure the UAE end. Honda’s 88th-minute free kick forced a spectacular Naser save, and Toyoda couldn’t manage to force the ball into the net moments later from close range.
After three minutes of additional time and a last-ditch attempt which saw Kagawa miss again from close range, referee Alireza Faghani blew his whistle to make it the fourth quarterfinal of the tournament to head into extra time.
The first half of extra time saw Japan continue to push for a game-winner, but fatigue allowed the UAE to get dangerously close to a shot of their own. Again and again it was half-German defender Gotoku Sakai successfully rushing back to defuse an Emirati counterattack.
Play bogged down as the first 15 minutes concluded without further incidents of note as the crowd of just over 19,000 in Stadium Australia prepared for the possibility of a second dramatic series of penalty kicks to end the night.
Japan quickly marched down the pitch to earn another series of corner kicks, many of which were taken short in an attempt to catch the UAE defenders off-guard. The West Asians defended strongly, however, and despite doubling their opponents with well over 700 passes Japan were still wanting of a goal.
At last a free kick a meter outside the penalty area was awarded to Japan in what seemed likely to be a definitive moment, but Shibasaki’s effort went just right of the post.
The UAE’s impatience could be seen less than a minute later as Omar Abdulrahman was shown a yellow card for aggressively confronting Sakai on the touchline. A brief moment of possession later and the referee blew his whistle to signal that the game would be the second of the day to be decided on penalty kicks following Iraq’s dramatic win over Iran.
Majed Naser stood between the posts in front of the Japan end as thousands behind him chanted Keisuke Honda’s name, but the AC Milan midfielder’s shot few high over the goalpost. Omar Abdulrahman followed with a graceful loop down the center as Kawashima dove left to give UAE a 1-0 advantage.
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe converted his team’s second kick into the left corner of the goal, but Ali Mabkhout was up to the task on the opposite side.
Shibasaki’s shot was true moments later, and Khamis Esmaeel’s ensuing kick was as off-target as Honda’s to tie both sides at 2-2.
Toyoda’s effort put Japan up 3-2, and Majed Hassan chose the upper right corner of the net to equalise at 3-3.
Next came defender Masato Morishige to put Japan ahead 4-3, but Habib Al Fardan found it easy to score as Kawashima again dived to the wrong side.
Shinji Kagawa’s ensuing shot bounced off the left post and out of the goal to the delight of the remaining UAE fans in attendance, leaving substitute Ismael Ahmed to be the hero and put UAE up for good 5-4.
The result means that Asia will have a new champion following Japan’s early exit; South Korea will play Iraq on January 26 in Sydney while the UAE will have three full days of rest before facing hosts Australia on January 27 in Newcastle’s Hunter Stadium.