A contentious penalty from Hiroshi Kiyotake before the break and Genki Haraguchi’s second-half strike helped Japan to an important 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Saitama.
Saudi Arabia went into the game leading the way in Group B as they seek to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 2006, with Japan three points behind having dropped points in two of their opening four games.
But Japan did not suffer what would have been a costly setback on this occasion, Kiyotake and Haraguchi putting them in control before Omar Hawsawi pulled one back late on, with Osama Hawsawi receiving a second yellow card in injury time for the visitors.
The result sees Japan join Saudi Arabia atop of Group B on 10 points from five games, though Australia could leapfrog both teams if they beat Thailand.
The first major chance of the game fell to Saudi Arabia forward Mohammed Al Sahlawi after a quick counter-attack in the 18th minute, but the forward aimed his shot from a difficult angle straight at goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
Japan dominated play, though, and created a number of opportunities to open the scoring before the interval, with Yuya Osako and Yuya Kobo both unfortunate not to find the net, the former seeing his shot from inside the area kept out by Mohammed Al Owais, while the latter’s attempt hit a defender before going wide.
But Vahid Halilhodzic’s men did break the deadlock in the 45th minute when Kiyotake converted a controversial penalty.
Abdulmalek Al-Khaibri seemingly blocked a shot from Kiyotake with his chest, but referee Muhammad Bin Jahari ruled that he had handled the ball and pointed to the spot, with the Sevilla man coolly slotting home from 12 yards.
Japan remained in full control after the break and eventually doubled their lead in the 80th minute as substitute Shinji Kagawa flicked a left-wing cross into the path of Haraguchi, the winger making no mistake in finding the bottom-left corner from close range.
Omar Hawsawi then halved the deficit with an effort that barely crossed the line before Osama Hawsawi received his marching orders well into stoppage time to pour even more salt in the visitors’ wounds.