Suffering Syrians advance despite defeat by Japan

Reuters

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Japan's Keisuke Honda and Syria's Hamdi Al Massri in action at a World Cup 2018 qualifying match at Saitama Stadium, Saitama, Japan on March 29, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter Japan's Keisuke Honda and Syria's Hamdi Al Massri in action at a World Cup 2018 qualifying match at Saitama Stadium, Saitama, Japan on March 29, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter

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War-torn Syria booked a spot in the final stage of 2018 World Cup qualifying and a berth at the 2019 Asian Cup despite suffering a 5-0 loss to already qualified Japan in their final Group E match on Tuesday.
The Syrians finished second in the pool behind Japan and were assured of one of the four best runners-up spots across the eight Asian groups after Jordan were beaten 5-1 by continental champions Australian earlier on Tuesday.
Syria, who have never qualified for a World Cup, are one of 12 teams who will be drawn into two groups for the third round stage with the top two from each pool qualifying for Russia 2018.
Japan will be among the favorites to advance to a sixth consecutive World Cup after they went through the eight-match stage without conceding a goal.
They bossed proceedings at Saitama Stadium but their old issues with finishing were again evident as they struggled to put away opponents ranked 123rd in the world until a late burst.
The hosts were gifted the lead in unfortunate circumstances when goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma pushed away an inswinging 18th minute cross but only into the face of his defender, Hamdi Al Massri, with the ball rebounding into am empty net.
Japan continued to dominate but Syria offered a threat on the break.
The visitors came within inches of levelling around the hour mark when Mahmoud Al Mawas struck the post with a long-range drive, moments after Keisuke Honda had headed against the upright for the Samurai Blue.
Borussia Dortmund attacker Shinji Kagawa made the game safe in the 66th minute when he took the ball on his chest before swivelling and firing in at the near post.
Japan striker and captain for the night Shinji Okazaki came close to marking his 100th international appearance with a goal, but it was Honda who nodded the third late on while Kagawa and Genki Haraguchi further inflated the score in stoppage time.

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