Japan got their Asian Cup 2024 campaign back on track by advancing to the knockout stages with a 3-1 win against Indonesia on Wednesday.
The pre-tournament favorites surprisingly lost to Iraq in their second Group D match last week, leaving their hopes of a record fifth Asian Cup title in jeopardy.
But any fears of an early exit were swept away at the Al Thumama Stadium after two goals from Ayasa Ueda steered the four-time champions to victory.
Justin Hubner scored a late own goal and Sandy Walsh pulled one back for Indonesia in extra time.
It took Ueda just six minutes to calm any nerves the Japanese players and fans might have had going into their final group game.
The Feyenoord striker won the free-kick after being fouled by Jordi Amat and fired his shot into the corner past Indonesia goalkeeper Ernando Ari Sutaryadi to open the scoring.
He doubled Japan’s lead in the 52nd minute and when Hubner deflected another Ueda effort into his own goal in the 88th minute, the win looked beyond doubt.
Walsh scored a consolation in stoppage time and Indonesia will have to wait for the three points to progress as one of the top third-placed teams.
While Japan safely secured their place, it was Iraq who advanced as group winners after substitute Aymen Hussein scored from the penalty spot in the 12th minute of stoppage time to beat 10-man Vietnam 3-2 in a thrilling encounter.
After coming on as a half-time substitute at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Hussein missed one penalty and converted from the spot until the break to maintain Iraq’s perfect record in Group D.
Hussein is the tournament’s top scorer with five goals and that tally could have been even better had he not hit the post with his earlier penalty against Vietnam.
Still, he managed to have a key impact on the match with two goals as the 2007 champions came from behind to make it three wins from three.
Vietnam took the lead through Bui Hoang Viet Anh in the 42nd minute, but Khuat Van Khang was sent off in first-half stoppage time for a second yellow card.
It took Rebin Solak just two minutes into the second half to equalize for Iraq and Hussein put his side in front 17 minutes from time.
Hussein failed to score from the spot when he shot against the post and the error looked to be costly as substitute Nguyen Quang Hai equalized in the 91st minute.
That was until Hussein got a chance to make amends for his earlier penalty and this time he made no mistake from the spot.