Saitama (Japan) (AFP) – Japan beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a foul-tempered qualifier Tuesday as a debatable Hiroshi Kiyotake penalty boosted their hopes of qualifying for a sixth successive World Cup in 2018.
The Blue Samurai drew level with the Group B leaders on 10 points after a tempestuous clash in Saitama, where Kiyotake’s spot kick and a Genki Haraguchi effort eased the pressure on under-fire coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
Saudi Arabia pulled a late goal back through Omar Othman but it was not enough for the visitors to rescue a draw.
Kiyotake converted on the stroke of half-time after Saudi defender Abdulmalek Al Khaibri was adjudged to have handled, despite replays showing Kiyotake’s initial shot had struck him in the chest.
The Saudis protested furiously to referee Muhammad bin Jahari of Singapore and scuffles broke out between the players, which continued as they disappeared down the tunnel at the interval.
Haraguchi effectively killed off Saudi’s hopes of pinching a point with a sharp finish after 80 minutes.
Othman’s 90th-minute strike crept across the line in a moment of cruel irony for Japan, who had a similar effort disallowed in their 2-1 defeat to UAE.
But Saudi hopes of snatching a draw were dealt a blow when Osama Hawsawi saw red for a clumsy challenge in injury time.
Saudi Arabia, who have failed to qualify for the last two World Cups, could have opened a six-point lead over Japan.
Australia were looking to go top with a win over Thailand in Bangkok later on Tuesday.
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