Soccer: Japan World Cup qualifying pain continues with loss to Saudis

© Kyodo News

Japan lost 1-0 to Saudi Arabia an Asian qualifier for the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup on Thursday, their second defeat in three games denting their direct qualification hopes.

It was the Saudis' third consecutive win in the third round of Asian qualifying for the Qatar World Cup, while Japan added a second Group B loss to go along with a 1-0 defeat to Oman earlier in the competition.

A goal from substitute Firas Al Birakan in the 71st minute gave the hosts the victory at King Abdulla Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, leaving Japan with three points from three games while Saudi Arabia joined Australia atop the group with a maximum nine points.

"We got tired and lost our rhythm, that's when they capitalized and scored," Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu said.

He remains defiant, though, insisting that the team's hopes of reaching a seventh straight World cup are not lost.

"If we don't give up, I believe we can still win a ticket to the World Cup," the 53-year-old said.

The third round has two groups of six teams with each squad facing the others in their group twice. The winners and runners-up in each group qualify for next year's tournament in the Middle East directly, and the two third-placed teams will play a home and away fourth-round for a place in the tournament.

On the Group B table, 26th-ranked Japan, Oman and China have three points apiece. Vietnam remain winless and sit bottom of the group with no points.

Samurai Blue suffered the shock upset at home to Oman in their opening Group B match early last month before beating China 1-0 in Qatar.

The Saudis, managed by Frenchman Herve Renard, won 3-1 over Vietnam in Riyadh and 1-0 away to Oman in their earlier group games.

Moriyasu's Japan squad must quickly regroup before the next qualifier to be played against Australia at Saitama Stadium on Tuesday.