Takehiro Tomiyasu netted the only goal of the game at the Sharjah Stadium in the 20th minute with towering header – with his first international goal in only his sixth cap – to hand the Samurai Blue a slender victory, foxsportsasia.com reported.
And, while Japan have been far from convincing throughout the tournament, it is still marching on into the quarters with a perfect record of four straight wins, and will now take on surprise packages Vietnam at the Al Maktoum Stadium in three-days’ time.
As the only Round of 16 tie pitting two of Asia’s representatives at the 2018 FIFA World Cup against one another, this tie – on paper at least – shaped up as the match of the round.
Nonetheless, with plenty at stake, there was a fairly tentative start to proceedings and at the end it was perhaps no surprise that it took a set- piece to break the deadlock.
An excellent corner by Gaku Shibasaki was directed to Tomiyasu, who did well to outjump Mohammed al-Fatil and send a perfectly-guided header into the top corner past a hapless Mohammed al-Owais.
The Green Falcons came close to responding five minutes after the half-hour mark when Hattan Bahebri pounced on a loose ball just outside the area, but his looping effort that had Shuichi Gonda scrambling dropped just wide of the far post.
With Saudi Arabia pushing forward with greater intensity after the break, it did leave gaps at the back to exploit and Japan should have punished the Middle Eastern giant in the 60th minute.
Having raced through down the left, Yoshinori Muto cut inside Mohammed al-Breik but just took too long to pull the trigger and his goal-bound shot was eventually blocked by a covering Yasser al-Shahrani.
As the game entered its closing stages, the Saudi Arabians did create their fair share of chances to equalize and force extra-time, but they just failed to show any clinical edge in front of goal.
In the end, Japan – while still not at its best – was able to play out the remainder of the contest to advance into the last eight.