Syria record first win over the Saudis since 1976
Two deflected strikes from midfielder Abdulrazak Al Husein handed Syria a surprise 2-1 win over Gulf giants Saudi Arabia in their Asian Cup Group B opener in Qatar on Sunday.
The Syrians, competing at the 16-team finals for the first time in 15 years, fully deserved the victory with players and substitutes sprinting over to their delighted supporters at the Al Rayyan Stadium to celebrate and pray.
The win was their first over the Saudis since 1976 and only their second in 24 attempts.
Syria, ranked 107th by FIFA and 26 places below their opponents, defended tightly and caused the three-times Asian champions numerous problems down the flanks with striker Mohamad Al Zino looking dangerous throughout.
"This is a battle and we have not yet won the war. The difficult part is just starting," said Tita Valeriu, who last month was appointed the team's fourth coach in a year.
Roared on by passionate support, the Syrians took the lead seven minutes before halftime when Al Husein prodded a half-volley from the edge of the area towards goal.
The shot was then diverted past Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah by his fullback Abdullah Shuhail's slight headed touch.
The Saudis improved after the break and drew level in the 59th minute when substitute Taiseer Al Jassam leapt into the penalty area to head Mosab Balhous's punched clearance from a corner back past the Syrian goalkeeper.
Image: Syria's Abdulrazak Al Husein celebrates after defeating Saudi Arabia on Sunday
'The fans and spectators were like 12th player in the game'
The equaliser momentarily silenced the Syrian supporters, who made up most of the 15,768 crowd at the 22,000 all-seater stadium.
They were back cheering again just four minutes later, however, when Al Husein's right footed shot from just inside the area took a wicked deflection past Abdullah to restore the advantage.
"I like very much the fans and spectators, they were like the 12th player in the game," Valeriu said.
The Syrians survived some nervy moments in the last 10 minutes as they sunk deeper into their half with substitute Naif Hazazi going very close with a header in the final minute.
The defeat left Saudi Arabia's Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro under more pressure after he was criticised for their failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1990 last year, despite joining midway through the qualifying campaign.
"We lost the first game but I believe we can win other games. Spain lost the first game in the (2010) World Cup and won the World Cup," said Peseiro.
The result came after three-times Asian champions Japan grabbed a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 1-1 with Jordan in the other Group B match.
Image: Syria's players celebrate with fans after winning their match against Saudi Arabia
I could not have imagined this result: Japan coach
Maya Yoshida had a goal disallowed, deflected a shot into his own net and headed an injury-time equaliser as Japan drew 1-1 with Jordan in the Asian Cup on Sunday.
The three-time Asian champions were seconds away from a shock defeat to a side ranked 104th in the world, 75 places below Japan in FIFA's rankings, when defender Yoshida headed home skipper Makoto Hasebe's cross unmarked at the far post in their opening Group B match at the Qatar Sports Club Stadium.
Jordan, in only their second appearance in the continent's major championship, looked set for a deserved win after taking the lead through Hasan Abdel-Fattah just before half-time.
Abdel-Fattah's shot from the edge of the box took a deflection off the foot of Yoshida, who thought he had scored after 25 minutes before his effort was ruled out for an infringement.
"I could not have imagined this result," Japan's Italian coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, said.
"We had expected to win. We had prepared well. We had all the possession in the first half and forced Jordan to play defensively.
"We need to improve in front of goal. I am pleased we made chances, but we need to take them."
Jordan's Iraqi coach, Adnan Hamad, said he was sad that his side could not hold on to their lead and win.
"We had victory within our grasp -- it was a sad result in the end, but not a bad result," he said.
The match began in hot, bright winter sunshine in the modest Qatar Sports Stadium dominated by Doha's burgeoning skyscraper skyline.
The 6,000 fans, which half-filled its 12,000 capacity, were mainly Jordanian supporters, and they maintained incessant noise as their team refused to be overawed by the more experienced Japan players.
Image: Japan's Maya Yoshida (left) celebrates his goal against Jordan with teammate Yasuyuki Konno
Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi pulled off some fine saves
Japan, aiming for an unprecedented fourth title, settled first and spent most of the opening 45 minutes keeping possession almost at will in Jordan's half.
Daisuke Matsui and Hasebe were at the heart of most of their forward flowing moves but, to their credit, Jordan, with midfielder Baha Abdelrahman working feverishly, also crafted some good chances.
At the back they defended well, with goalkeeper Amer Shafi producing some fine saves to earn the man-of-the-match award.
He did well to thwart Shinji Kagawa after 41 minutes, when the Germany-based Borussia Dortmund striker fired straight at him after another fine pass from Matsui. It proved a costly miss for Japan.
Although on the back foot for most of the half, Jordan looked dangerous twice before they took the lead. Hasan fired straight at keeper Eiji Kawashima after 29 minutes and Basem Fathi headed narrowly wide from a corner seven minutes before the break.
Abdel-Fattah was a constant threat to Japan, who will need to improve against Syria and Saudi Arabia if they are to make the last eight.
On this performance, Jordan could prove a serious threat for both of those teams in their next two games.
Image: Japan and Jordan players react after their match on Sunday