MUSCAT, Oman (AP) -Striker Shinji Okazaki tapped in a late goal to help Japan beat Oman 2-1 and virtually seal a spot in the 2014 World Cup on Wednesday.
With Oman pressing for the late winner, Japan went on the counterattack. Gotoku Sakai's cross into the area deflected off Yasuhito Endo and into the path of Okazaki, who scored in the 89th minute.
Japan leads Asia Group B by eight points over Australia, Jordan and Oman and is on the verge of reaching its fifth World Cup with three matches remaining.
"The first half was tough for us as it was hot and made an impact on the players. But as the sun set and conditions became better, it suited our style and we played better in the second half," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said.
"Oman played good and it was difficult to break through their defense. But I instructed my players to attack more from the flanks, which finally worked in our favor."
Oman almost took the lead in the 10th. Amad al-Hosni's quick throw-in caught the Japan defense sleeping but the on-rushing Fawzi Bashir blazed a shot over the crossbar.
Japan started pressing and scored in the 20th thanks to Yuto Nagatomo's cross to Hiroshi Kiyotake, who slotted it home after a defensive lapse by Oman's Rashid al-Farsi.
The goal was orchestrated by Yasuyuki Konno, who delivered a long ball on the right flank for the hard-working Nagatomo. The defender's cross was missed by Farsi, which left goalkeeper Ali al-Habsi out of position. The cross found Kiyotake in a perfect position to unleash a powerful shot into the right corner of the net.
Oman, again, had a chance to level in the 36th when Ismail al-Ajmi fed a charging Al Gheilani Hassan Yousuf Madhafar, whose header hit the post and rolled across the goalmouth before being cleared to safety.
That near miss seemed to inspire Paul Le Guen's side in the second half. It controlled play in the first 20 minutes and drew level in the 77th when a free kick from Ahmed Mubarak slipped under the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
Kawashima was then forced to race off his line to block at the feet of Saleh just three minutes later but Oman couldn't find the equalizer.
"I am proud of my boys and happy on the way they played against one of the best teams in the world," Le Guen said. "We still have nine points to fight for and we will not give up till the end."