DOHA: Syria coach Tita Valeriu is confident his surprise-package team can secure a quarter-final spot at the Asian Cup for the first time despite being beaten by Japan.
The Syrians face Jordan in their must-win final Group B game on Monday.
"We actually played all attacking football and we were looking for the three points," the Romanian tactician said after they lost 2-1 to Japan on Thursday following their shock 2-1 defeat of Saudi Arabia in their opening game.
"And from now on, we’ll do our best."
The Eagles still have more than a mathematical chance to survive the group stage as they trail Japan and Jordan by only one point. Underdogs Jordan forced the Blue Samurai to a 1-1 draw in their opener.
Syria are raring to reach the Asian Cup knockout stage for the first time in five outings. In their Cup debut in 1980, they missed a last-eight berth by one point.
Syria’s airtight defense let up and allowed Japan to open the scoring in the 35th minute when Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe slammed in a pass from Daisuke Matsui in a flowing attack.
The Eagles equalized on 76 minutes from a penalty controversially awarded against goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima for bringing down Sanharib Malki despite the player being flagged offside.
But it took only six minutes for 10-man Japan to score the winner from another penalty taken by Keisuke Honda.
Valeriu, who took the job less than a month ago after a series of coach changes, denied he had any thought of drawing with Japan after the 1-1 equilibrium.
"My team were a little nervous at the start but eventually they became more confident," the 44-year-old said.
"I made substitutions during the match and that shows I was concentrated on winning and not drawing," added Valeriu, who is on loan from Syrian club Ittihad.
The penalty and the red card for Japan sent Japanese players and officials protesting fiercely against Iranian referee Torky Mohsen.
But the ref remained defiant, saying that Malki was not offside when he was behind Kawashima, judging that thebal was played back towards the keeper by Japanese player and not a Syrian.
Japan’s Italian coach Albert Zaccheroni said video replays showed the decision was wrong, although Valeriu insisted it was correct.
"I agreed that the red card against the Japanese goalkeeper was correct," he said.
"This goalkeeper deserved that red card because our player was alone at the back and he hindered him."
Japan Football Association technical director Hiromi Hara said his side was preparing a letter to the Asian Football Confederation to protest the referee’s decision and demand the withdrawal of a ban on Kawashima.