Oman shocks Japan 1-0, Iraq holds South Korea to 0-0 draw

(AP) — Japan fell to a shock 1-0 defeat against Oman in the opening Group B game of World Cup qualifying on Thursday.

Substitute Issam Al-Sabhi swept home from close range in the 88th minute in rainy Osaka to claim victory against the world’s 24th-ranked team, the highest in Asia.

It could have been worse for the host as Oman, ranked 55 places lower, saw a second-half penalty award overturned after the referee, who had initially pointed to the spot following a handball by Yuto Nagatomo, consulted VAR.

Japan has made six consecutive World Cup appearances, but Oman has never qualified. The Japanese enjoyed the majority of possession but struggled to create clear chances against their well-organized opponent.

“It was a disappointing defeat,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “Now the focus is to bounce back to take three points in the next game.”

That comes against China on Tuesday.

In Group A, South Korea was also frustrated after being held by Iraq to a 0-0 draw in an empty Seoul World Cup Stadium.

The host, aiming for a 10th successive appearance at the World Cup, was in charge for much of the game against the hard-working visitor but could not break the deadlock.

Lee Jae-sung came closest, blasting over in the first half from close range after a goal-line clearance from Iraq, looking to add to its sole World Cup appearance in 1986.

Hwang Hee-chan, who recently signed with English Premier League team Wolverhampton, headed straight at the goalkeeper from a good position after the break.

The top two from both six-team groups qualify automatically for next year’s World Cup. The third-placed teams meet in a playoff and the winner then faces an opponent from another confederation.