Japan advance at Asian Cup but both they and Indonesia left facing nervous wait

Despite a shaky group-stage campaign, Japan were able to seal their place in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup knockout round with a 3-1 win over Indonesia on Wednesday following a match-winning double by Ayase Ueda. Markus Gilliar - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

For all the talk surrounding Japan's unconvincing displays thus far at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, they have ultimately gotten the first part of the job done -- reaching the round of 16.

While there was mathematically still a chance they might suffer an unthinkable early elimination heading into Wednesday's final Group D fixtures, the Samurai Blue never looked in danger from the moment they took the lead after just six minutes en route to a 3-1 win over Indonesia.

Although there was never a chance that the Japanese could overtake Iraq in top spot, they are at least now safely through to the next stage although it will not get easier as they are set to meet the winners of Group E, which could potentially be fellow heavyweights South Korea.

At the very least, Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu will be heartened by a much-improved showing than last time out when they were beaten 2-1 by Iraq -- a result which raise genuine doubts over their title credentials.

Moriyasu showed no hesitation in wielding the axe as he made eight changes to his starting XI, and it did not take long for the fresh faces to make an impact.

The game was still in its infancy when Ayase Ueda showed good strength to hold up the play inside the box before he was illegally brought down by Jordi Amat, leading to the award of a penalty and paving the way for him to open the scoring from the spot.

Seven minutes after halftime, Ueda was on target again as he was left with an easy finish after finding himself unmarked at the back post, following good work down the left by Ritsu Doan.

And the win was secured with two minutes remaining when Ueda once again led the line well and fashioned an opening for himself, only for his scuffed shot to be slammed into the back of his own by Indonesia defender Justin Hubner.

The Indonesians however did manage to grab a consolation in injury-time when a freekick delivery into the area went all the way to the far post, where it was forced home by Sandy Walsh for his first international goal.

Granted, Indonesia will not be the strongest opposition Japan will face at the Asian Cup, especially if they are to go deeper into the tournament but the renewed endeavour and organization they displayed would have pleased Moriyasu.

While there is plenty of competition for the spearhead berth, Ueda must have done enough to keep his place in the starting XI ahead of Daizen Maeda and Takuma Asano when the knockout round comes along.

Likewise, Doan, Reo Hatate and Yuta Nakayama were among others who seized their opportunity and will have reason to feel hard done by if they are to return to the bench -- having played an important part in ensuring Japan's progress.

Meanwhile, all is not lost for Indonesia despite the defeat -- with the important task having been completed five days earlier when they defeated Vietnam to secure third spot in Group D at the minimum.

With the four best-performing third-placed teams also advancing, Indonesia are currently headed for a maiden appearance in the last 16 yet they will only be able to breathe easy come the end of Thursday.

Groups E and F will conclude then and, as thing stand, the Indonesians are in a precarious position in fourth spot in the third-placed team rankings.

As long as both groups do not produced a third-placed side with a superior record, Indonesia will be through -- and that in itself would be an achievement.

Remarkably, even in defeat, Indonesia could just be the happier of the two teams with Wednesday's result, while Japan face a nervous wait of their own to find out if their own last-16 tie will deliver a premature clash of two title favourites.