Japan's Zaccheroni gets taste of vagaries of Asian game
Alberto Zaccheroni may only be four games into his reign as Japan manager, but already the Italian is finding out about the difficulties that face the three-time Asian champions at continental level.
On the day when another three-time champion, Saudi Arabia, exited the tournament at the hands of Jordan, Zaccheroni's side secured a 2-1 win over Syria under controversial circumstances to pick up their first victory of the 2011 Asian Cup finals.
Makoto Hasebe had given a dominant Japan the lead in the first half but the Blue Samurai were almost left regretting a host of missed chances when, with 15 minutes remaining, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was sent off in the most bizarre fashion.
Referee Mohsen Torky sent off the former Kawasaki Frontale goalkeeper after he hauled down Syrian substitute Sanharib Malki Sabah despite the assistant referee raising his flag to signify Sabah had been in an offside position before the second offence was committed.
Torky overruled his colleague and pointed to the spot, sparking furious scenes before Kawashima was sent to the dressing rooms and Firas Al Khtaibi stepped up to score past replacement goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
Just eight minutes later, though, the Japanese were gifted a penalty of their own by Torky after Shinji Okazaki keeled over at the other end and Keisuke Honda's spot kick earned Japan their victory.
'It was not perfect but we got three points,' said Japan's Netherlands-based defender Maya Yoshida.
'And even though the referee wasn't very good, it's over and we won and we have to focus on the next game. It was very strange for not only us, but for Syria. I don't think it was a penalty.
'I think the Syrian player kicked the ball and the assistant referee put up the offside flag but the referee, I don't know what he thought. I always respect the referee but today's referee was a bit strange.
'When we play against Asian teams it's always very tough but we got the three points. It's completely not a penalty kick and we couldn't understand the referee's decision.
'We got three points, we have one more game and we have to focus on the next game.'
A draw with the already-eliminated Saudis will be enough to take Japan into the last eight and Yoshida is confident he and his teammates can prevail against a side that looks devoid of all confidence after losses against Jordan and Syria.
'I thought Saudi Arabia was a very good team but they have lost two games,' he said. 'As you know when we play against Asian teams the games are tough. I want to win the game always and that will be enough.'