Oman stunned Japan in the opening game of the final World Cup qualifying round on Thursday, winning 1-0 thanks to an Issam Al Sabhi goal in the closing minutes. Japan’s shock home defeat in Group B came after the Samurai Blue dominated the previous rounds, with eight wins from eight. After a scoreless first half at a rainy Panasonic Stadium in Osaka, the hosts sent on young stars Takefusa Kubo and Ritsu Doan — both joining the national team after playing in the Tokyo Olympics.
But Oman broke through Japan’s defensive line several times and Al Sabhi netted the 88th-minute winner — just a few minutes after coming off the bench.
He said it was an “amazing feeling" when he scored the goal.
“Thank God. We got a good result. We worked together very hard," he told a news conference.
Oman coach Branko Ivankovic toasted “a historical victory" for the team.
Japan’s poor performance disappointed some 5,000 local fans allowed to watch the game at the stadium after the number of spectators was slashed due to virus restrictions.
Captain Maya Yoshida lamented the team’s showing.
“We lost as we were supposed to lose," he said. “Our tempo was bad. Our combination was bad. Really bad."
Japan, Asia’s highest-ranked side, are seeking a seventh straight appearance at the World Cup finals in 2022 in Qatar.
The group also includes Australia, China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the World Cup, and the third-placed sides will face off for a chance to enter the intercontinental play-off.
Japan take on China in Doha next week.