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Asian Cup: Japan tops Saudi Arabia to reach quarterfinals

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SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) Japan advanced to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup on Monday by beating Saudi Arabia 1-0.

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Takehiro Tomiyasu scored with a header in the 20th minute while the Saudis created few chances despite having more than 75 percent of the possession.

Japan, which is looking to win a record fifth Asian Cup title, will next face Vietnam. Saudi Arabia has not reached the Asian Cup quarterfinals in 12 years.

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Again at the sparsely attended tournament, there were banks of empty seats and chants echoed around the stadium.

Later Monday, defending champion Australia plays Uzbekistan while host the United Arab Emirates faces Kyrgyzstan.

Asian Cup: Lippi’s China comes from behind; Vietnam advances (video)

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) China fought back from a goal down to beat Thailand 2-1 in the round of 16 of the Asian Cup on Sunday and avoid a potentially embarrassing upset.

Supachai Jaided put Thailand ahead in the 31st minute, turning and shooting despite being surrounded by three defenders, before Chinese striker Wu Lei missed a string of good chances.

World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi brought veteran Xiao Zhi off the bench in the 64th and three minutes later he scored the equalizer, knocking the ball into the net on the rebound from his own saved header.

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Gao Lin quickly added a second from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Chalermpong Kerdkaew. China goalkeeper Yun Junling averted extra time when he stopped Chalermpong’s fierce shot in stoppage time.

China will face either Iran or Oman in Thursday’s quarterfinal as it bids to end a 15-year absence from Asian Cup semifinals. China’s national team has often fallen short despite the country’s long-term ambitions of becoming a soccer superpower and the wealth of Chinese clubs. China has only qualified for the World Cup once, losing all its games in 2002, and lost its only Asian Cup final to Japan two years later.

Thailand, which got out of the Asian Cup group stage for the first time in 47 years, had caretaker coach Sirisak Yodyadthai in charge after firing Milovan Rajevac following its opening group-stage 4-1 loss to India.

Earlier Sunday, Vietnam surprised an on-form Jordan team on penalties to reach the quarterfinals.

The 20-year-old midfielder Bui Tien Dung stroked the winning penalty into the bottom-left corner as Vietnam won the shootout 4-2 after the game finished 1-1 following extra time. Vietnam took the initiative in the shootout after Jordan’s Baha Seif hammered a penalty onto the crossbar and Vietnam’s Russian-born keeper Dang Van Lam leapt to palm away Ahmed Salah’s shot.

Despite being nine places higher in the world rankings, Vietnam was something of an underdog given it had only once before played an Asian Cup knockout game and Jordan had beaten reigning champion Australia in the group stage.

Jordan took the lead in the 39th minute after referee Alireza Faghani gave a rare indirect free kick inside the penalty area for a high foot. After the slightest of touches from a teammate, Baha Abdel-Rahman blasted the ball into the net from a tight angle.

After struggling to create chances in the first half, Vietnam was more incisive after halftime. In the 51st, Nguyen Cong Phuong flicked teammate Nguyen Trong Hoang’s cross high into the net. Shortly after, a Jordan defensive blunder nearly gave Vietnam the lead but Anas Bani Yaseen rushed back to clear the ball off the line.

Vietnam will play either Japan or Saudi Arabia in its first Asian Cup quarterfinal since 2007.

It’s the first time the Asian Cup has had a last-16 round after expanding to 24 teams.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Asian Cup: Qatar, Japan advance with perfect records

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) Qatar finished the group stage of the Asian Cup with a third straight win, beating three-time champion Saudi Arabia 2-0 on Thursday in a highly charged game amid the political tensions between the two nations.

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Saudi Arabia engineered the regional boycott of Qatar along with the host United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. The Qataris have held firm, denying accusations that they support extremists.

Forward Almoez Ali scored both goals, netting the opener at the Zayed Sports City Stadium with a low shot in first-half injury time and heading home the second 10 minutes from time to help his country beat Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup for the first time and win Group E with nine points.

Just minutes before the first goal, Hasan Al Haydos missed a penalty for Qatar.

Ali, 22, is the top scorer at the tournament with seven goals and will look to extend his tally in the round of 16 against Iraq on Tuesday.

Earlier in Al Ain, four-time champion Japan rallied from a goal down to also finish the group stage with a perfect record after a 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan.

With both teams already qualified, Japan topped Group F with nine points after winning all three games to set up a knockout-stage meeting with Saudi Arabia on Monday.

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Uzbekistan finished second with six points and will open the round of 16 against defending champion Australia.

Oman finished third with three points after beating Turkmenistan 3-1 to secure a spot in the knockout stage for the first time. It will play Group D winner Iran on Sunday.

In Group E In Sharjah, Lebanon got its first win, 4-0 against North Korea and both teams are eliminated.

After Japan routed Uzbekistan in their last two Asian Cup games, 4-0 in 1996 and 8-1 in 2000, it looked like a different story on Thursday in Al Ain when Eldor Shomurodov put Uzbekistan 1-0 ahead five minutes before the interval with his fourth goal of the tournament.

But Yoshinori Muto canceled out that advantage with a header just three minutes later and Tsukasa Shiotani scored the winner in the second half to complete the comeback.

In Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Muhsen Al Ghassani and Mohammed Al-Musallami scored for Oman in the second half as the team took its first three points of the tournament.

Ahmed Al Mahaijri had put Oman ahead with a free kick 20 minutes into the game before Altymyrat Annadurdyyev equalized later in the first half.

Asian Cup Wrap: South Korea clinches top spot in group, and more

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Heung-Min Son started, recorded an assist and went 89 minutes three days after arriving in the United Arab Emirates as South Korea finished off the group stage with a resounding, 2-0 win over China.

With the win, South Korea’s third straight, the Taegeuk Warriors advance to the knockout stages as one of the top seeds, where they’ll face a third-place team in their next match. Ui-Jo Huang scored on a penalty kick in the 14th minute to give South Korea the lead, and six minutes into the second half, Min-Jae Kim powered home a header off a Son corner kick to put the game away.

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China won’t be too upset about the defeat. They finished in second place in Group C, and will open the knockout round against Thailand.

Elsewhere in Asian Cup action, Vitalij Lux scored a hat-trick as Kyrgyzstan beat the Philippines, possibly earning a spot in the knockout stages. It’s Kyrgyzstan‘s first appearance at the Asian Cup.

In Group D action, leaders Iraq and Iran, both enemies politically, perhaps finished with an appropriate scoreline. The two sides settled for a scoreless draw, seeing both advance to the next round. Vietnam, meanwhile, picked up its first win in a 2-0 victory over Yemen, potentially keeping its Asian Cup hopes alive for a few more days.

Mabil: Memorable celebration was to support mental health

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It turns out there was a bit more to say about the outstanding goal from Australia’s Awer Mabil at the Asian Cup, thanks to his celebration.

Mabil held his hand over his mouth and two fingers in front of his forehead after scoring the left-footed rip, and said his idea is to help spread the word that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues.

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The two fingers represent peace to the mind, while Mabil says the covering of the mouth is a plea to speak freely. From the BBC:

“The reason [people] go quiet is mainly because they don’t know what the reaction is going to be from the mainstream society,” he said.

“A lot of people worry about what others think but I honestly think you should not be afraid of what others think. Those people who are afraid to open up, this is for them, for them to open up and make them feel this is okay.”

Mabil, 23, plays for Danish power Midtjylland, where has five goals and nine assists this season.

The BBC notes that Mabil was born at a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Australia as a child as part of a resettlement program.