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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Asian Cup Upset: Focused Iraq Powers Past Japan

Iraq outplayed Japan in a clash of former Asian Cup champs to reach the round of 16. The Samurai Blue's last Group D match will determine if they also advance.



Asian Cup
Japan's Takuma Asano (right) in action against Iraq in an Asian Cup Group D match in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on January 19, 2024. (Molly Darlington/REUTERS)

Read the full story on SportsLook - [JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Asian Cup Upset: Focused Iraq Powers Past Japan

All winning streaks eventually end, and the Japan men's soccer team's 2-1 defeat to Iraq at the Asian Cup on Friday, January 19 provided fresh evidence that the maxim is correct.

The Samurai Blue's 10-match winning streak came to a screeching halt in Al Rayyan, Qatar. Iraq forward Aymen Hussein was the catalyst of the upset victory with a two-goal effort in the first half, scoring on headers in the fifth minute and first-half injury time.

Moreover, it was Japan's first group stage defeat at the Asian Cup since 1992 (a total of 26 matches).

In the right place at the right time, Hussein banged in the first goal after Japan goalkeeper Zion Suzuki's clearance attempt of a cross sailed right into his path and he sent it soaring into the top corner of the goal.

Asian Cup
Iraq's Aymen Hussein scores the match's first goal in the fifth minute. (Molly Darlington/REUTERS)

World No 17 Japan, considered one of the favorites to win the Asian Cup along with South Korea and Saudi Arabia, controlled the tempo of the match. Hajime Moriyasu's squad had possession for 72% of the time in its encounter against Group D foe Iraq. But Hussein's imprint on the match proved too much for Japan to overcome on this night at Education City Stadium. 

Iraq, ranked 63rd in the world and the 2007 Asian Cup champion, capitalized on its aggressive play on offense, catching Japan off-balance on defense on multiple occasions.


Although Japan made five substitutions in the second half to add fresh legs and energy to the team's lineup, the four-time Asian Cup champion (1992, 2000, 2004, 2011) played a subpar match.

Asian Cup
Japan's Wataru Endo scores on a header in second-half stoppage time against Iraq in an Asian Cup Group D match on January 19. (KYODO)

Midfielder Wataru Endo's header in second-half additional time (94th minute) accounted for Japan's lone goal.

For Japan, a Disappointing Result at the Asian Cup

"We prepared the same way as we did for Vietnam but unfortunately we found ourselves in a difficult position, especially early on," Moriyasu told reporters after the match, Reuters reported. "The crowd and atmosphere made us feel like we were playing an away game." 

In his analysis of the match, Moriyasu stated that Iraq seized momentum in the first half.

"The second goal hit us hard, we must learn from our mistakes," he said before adding, "The players fought hard and I must accept responsibility for the loss. We analyzed before the game and knew how Iraq would play at the start, they did play very aggressive. 

"Unfortunately we couldn't handle it, I know we need to do more."

Asian Cup
Forward Aymen Hussein's second goal of the first half gave Iraq a 2-0 lead heading into halftime. (Thaier Al-Sudani/REUTERS)

With the win, Iraq improved to 2-0 in the Asian Cup. Coach Jesus Casas' club leads Group D with six points. 


Iraq defeated Indonesia 3-1 on Monday, January 15. 

Japan will face Indonesia in the teams' final Group D match on Wednesday, January 24. Indonesia is coming off a 1-0 victory over Vietnam on Friday.

The Samurai Blue need a victory over Indonesia to guarantee that they will also advance to the round of 16. Indonesia and Japan both have three points heading into their final group stage match.

Asian Cup
Takumi Minamino scores his second goal of the first half against Vietnam in an Asian Cup match on January 14 in Doha. (KYODO)

Japan Triumphs in Asian Cup Opener

The Samurai Blue opened their Asian Cup campaign with a 4-2 win over Vietnam on Sunday, January 14 in Doha.

Takumi Minamino provided an offensive spark with goals in the 11th and 45th minutes.

In between Minamino's impactful scoring plays, Vietnam's Dinh Bac Nguyen and Tuan Hai Pham booted the ball past Japan goalkeeper Suzuki and into the net in the 15th and 32nd minutes. Suzuki, 21, who plies his craft for Belgian club Sint-Truidense, earned his fifth cap for the national team in the Asian Cup opener.

Before the first half wrapped up, Japan regained the lead (3-2) on Keito Nakamura's on-target blast four minutes into additional time. 

Second-half substitute Ayase Ueda completed the scoring with an 85th-minute strike.


"It was great to win and get three points to start the group stage, [and] it was a reminder of the difficulties of starting a competition and playing in Asia," Moriyasu told reporters. "The players played with great composure for 90 minutes despite the difficult battle and I think that helped us to come back after conceding the lead. 

"It was also good to see the players stay focused and really fight as a team." 

Continue reading the full story, which includes news items on tennis, boxing, ski jumping and basketball, on SportsLook.

Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven

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