Goa: Defender Ayumu Seko’s first-half goal was enough to see Japan returned to the semi-finals of the AFC U-16 Championship India 2016 after missing out two years ago after they posted a 1-0 win over United Arab Emirates at GMC Stadium on Sunday.
Seko opened the scoring for Group B winners Japan 14 minutes before half-time of the eagerly anticipated quarter-final in a first period dominated by the Young Samurai Blue.
After the interval, Taisei Miyashiro hit the post from the penalty spot and Seko headed onto the crossbar as Japan strived for a second but in the end the 1-0 scoreline proved enough as Yoshiro Moriyama’s side maintained their 100% record with Japan seeking a first AFC U-16 Championship title since 2006 having lost the 2012 final to Uzbekistan.
The fourth win of the campaign also ensured Japan return to the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time since reaching the 2013 Round of 16, with the event also set to be played in India next year.
Moriyama made nine changes to the team that defeated Australia 6-0 on Thursday, while UAE coach Abdelmajeed Al Nemer kept faith with the 11 that secured a victory over Saudi Arabia on Matchday Three.
And it was one of the Japan changes, Keito Nakamura, who went close to opening the scoring inside the first five minutes with a low drive from range that rustled the side-netting.
Hinata Kida stung the gloves of Salem Al Hareth just before the quarter-hour mark with a fizzing low shot that the UAE ‘keeper finger-tipped wide.
Such was Japan’s dominance in the opening period that the goal looked to be coming and it arrived on the half hour mark as Al Mareth failed to hold Takefusa Kubo’s in-swinging corner and centre-back Seko stabbed home.
Former Barcelona prospect Kubo then went on a slaloming run into the area but Al Hareth denied his well-struck effort with a fine save as Japan finished the half on top but just the one goal to the good.
Japan remained on top in the opening spells of the second half and on the 56th minute Miyashiro laid the ball into the path of Nakamura but Al Mareth, who goal aside was in fine form, pushed the firmly struck shot aside.
Moriyama brought on Hiroto Yamada 10 minutes later and the substitute should have scored with his first touch when Miyashiro put him through on goal but the striker’s shot bobbled narrowly wide of the far post.
Yamada was then denied again by the UAE custodian on the 70th minute as Al Mareth pulled off a smart double-save to prevent the East Asians’ second of the night.
And the Emiratis almost punished Japan for the profligacy when Abed Alazez Dawod found Abdulla Al Naqbi in the area with the substitute forcing Japan goalkeeper Kosei Tani into action.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Japan were awarded a penalty but the second goal still wouldn’t come for Japan as Miyashiro thumped his spot-kick onto the upright.
And Seko was next to have the woodwork rattling five minutes later as he powered a header onto the crossbar from Yukinari Sugawara’s corner.
But in spite of Japan’s failure to add to their lead they were able to see out the remaining time and celebrate a return to both the AFC U-16 Championship semi-finals and the U-17 FIFA World Cup.