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Share Agony amid drama in Doha The 'Agony of Doha' remains etched in Japanese footballing memory 16 years after the unforgettable events of 28 October Hussein, S.
Hussein, Kadhim, A. The stakes With one match left in the six-team final qualification phase, Japan maintained a narrow lead in a congested table that had five nations still harbouring dreams of booking their spot at USA Without a FIFA World Cup appearance to their name Japan had never been closer to the world stage and but had to face regional footballing powerhouse Iraq, who had reached the finals of Mexico The Japanese knew that a draw could even be enough to qualify depending on other results.
Iraq were also still alive in the standings but needed to claim maximum points and hope results fell in their favour. The story Striker Kazuyoshi Miura gave Japan a dream start just five minutes in, when he headed the opening goal after a thunderous shot from midfielder Kenta Hasegawa cannoned back off the crossbar.
The east Asian side's compact midfield controlled the game, and Hans Ooft's team rarely looked troubled during the first half. Iraq came out a different side in the second half and as the stifling heat in the Qatari capital began to take its toll on the Japanese players, Ahmed Radhi equalised following a tenacious run ten minutes after the interval.
Fourteen minutes later, though, Masashi Nakayama steered Japan back on course for qualification when he latched onto a through ball from midfield general Ruy Ramos and beat the offside trap to inch his side ahead. Iraq kept pressing and were eventually rewarded in injury time when Ala Kadhim swung a cross into the penalty box for Jaffar Salman to head home a goal that ruined Japan's long-held FIFA World Cup dreams which were just moments from being realised.
The distraught Japanese players slumped to the ground and barely had time to kick-off before the final whistle went. Saudi Arabia's dramatic defeat of Iran and Korea Republic's win over Korea DPR consigned Japan to third place on goal difference, leaving them excruciatingly close to a qualifying berth.
The result also saw Iraq eliminated with the results of the other two matches meaning they finished two points off the pace. The star Miura's mesmerising dribbling skills and appetite for goals, including the only goal in Japan's crucial win over Korea Republic three days earlier, was the driving force behind the visitors' play.
They said "I can't remember the changing room after the game, or speaking to the media afterward, or the bus ride back to the hotel. I had devoted myself to my World Cup dream. We had so many training camps that I spent more time with my team-mates than with my family.
I could see the World Cup right in front of me but when I went to grab it, it vanished into thin air," Japan midfielder Hajime Moriyasu.
Although we didn't win, it was one of the best matches of my career. The Iraqi team played hard but fair, and with pride.
I bumped into them at the hotel that night. I remember they said Japan were a wonderful team. I thanked them and told them they were also a fantastic side," Japan midfielder Ruy Ramos.
What happened next Japan set out to exorcise its Doha demons by qualifying for France , with coach Shu Kamo replaced by Takeshi Okada in after a string of disappointing results during the early qualifying rounds. Okada's appointment would then transform the team, culminating in a gripping play-off victory over Iran that finally earned Japan their first FIFA World Cup finals appearance.