SAITAMA, Japan, June 22 (Reuters) - A freak late goal from defender Atsuto Uchida gave Japan a 1-0 home win over Bahrain in a World Cup qualifier played in monsoon conditions on Sunday.
Both sides had already secured their places in the final
round of Asian 2010 World Cup qualifiers, but Japan's victory in
rain-soaked Saitama meant they finished top of Group Two.
Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura had an early penalty
saved and Keisuke Honda missed an open goal moments before the
break after Yasuhito Endo's free kick had hit the crossbar.
Bahrain posed more of a threat in the second half with Japan
goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki needing to be alert to keep out fierce
drives from Abdullah Omar and Sayed Adnan.
Nakamura, making his 78th international appearance and
surpassing former team mate Hidetoshi Nakata to go fifth on
Japan's list, was at the heart of his side's best moves.
Japan almost paid for some woeful finishing and looked like
settling for second place behind the Gulf side in the group
standings until Uchida's 89th-minute fluke goal.
As Bahrain struggled to clear the ball, Uchida's
harmless-looking header back into the box bounced over Bahrain
goalkeeper Sayed Jaffer and into the back of the net, to the
surprise of Japan's players and 51,000 anorak-clad fans.
'The players never gave up and kept pressing for a goal,'
said Japan coach Takeshi Okada, who had been under fire after
his side were beaten 1-0 by Bahrain in March.
'We didn't play badly. We just need to be sharper with our
finishing. We lost a bit of rhythm in the second half but we
Japan finished with 13 points from their six matches with
Bahrain runners-up on 11 points in a group also involving Oman
'We lost because of a defensive mistake,' said Bahrain's
Czech coach Milan Macala. 'But we achieved our goal of reaching
the last round of qualifiers so I'm happy.'
Nakamura, who required a pain-killing injection for a sore
ankle to play in last weekend's 3-0 away win over Thailand, said
Okada's new-look side would get better.
'The foundations are solid and the shape's there,' said
Nakamura. 'At this level you have to execute at speed to break
teams down. That's what we need to aim for.'
The final round of Asian qualifying matches begin in
September. The draw takes place in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.