Ukraine survived a stirring comeback from Japan to advance to the last eight with a 6-3 win at the Huamark Indoor Stadium in Bangkok. Despite a second-half rally from the Samurai Blue, this game was effectively over at half-time, by which stage the eastern Europeans had built up a six-goal lead and secured a meeting with either Iran or Colombia.
The Group A winners were in ruthless mood and took the lead after just three minutes when Sergiy Cheporniuk dragged the ball away from his marker with the sole of his foot and toe-poked into the top corner from just outside the box. Two minutes later, another excellent goal doubled Ukraine’s lead, with Dmytro Fedorchenko escaping the attentions of Kaoru Morioka wide on the right before drilling a low shot just inside the far post.
A nightmare start for Japan took another nasty twist on ten minutes when Shota Hoshi was robbed in attempting to dribble out of defence, leaving Sergiy Zhubra with a simple tap-in. Ievgen Rogachov then claimed another eye-catching goal for the eastern Europeans, smashing a left-foot shot home after cutting inside his marker.
The picture for Japan became even gloomier when top scorer Kotara Inaba was sent off five minutes before the break for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, and Ukraine quickly made their numerical advantage count, Denys Ovsiannikov extending their lead to five. Just 38 more seconds had elapsed by the time Ovsiannikov lobbed in his second, and yet while it seemed that a cricket score was beckoning at this stage, Japan somehow contrived to inject drama into proceedings.
Kaoura Morioka was the man who revived his team’s hopes with two goals in the space of a minute, the first an opportunist effort and the second a spectacular piledriver of a shot, sent high into the net from near the right touchline. By the time Waturu Kitihara swept in a third, set up by a fifth outfield player coach Miguel Rodrigo had sent forward, the Japan fans were beginning to believe again. ButUkraine saw out the remaining minutes to make sure of their place in the quarter-finals.
“In the first half, we played really well. But I can’t be satisfied because of the way we played in the second half, when we conceded too many goals. The reason that happened was that we lost concentration. But we are through and now we will face another strong opponent. There are no weak teams at this stage of the competition,” Gennadiy Lisenchuk, Ukraine coach.
“It’s a pity that we still give these kind of performances, showing such mental weakness. Our performance in the second half came naturally in a way because the scoreline was impossible to retrieve, so it released the players from pressure and responsibility. But at least we gave our fans something. Their support has been indispensable. They made it feel like we were playing at home,”Miguel Rodrigo, Japan coach.