Southeast Asia’s last hope fell just short of making it into the 2019 Asian Cup semifinals after Vietnam was ousted by Japan 1-nil on Thursday evening.

Video assistant referee, or VAR, made its debut in the tournament for the matchup between the Golden Dragons and Samurai Blue. It didn’t take long before the technology was inaugurally put into use.

In the 26th minute of the match, Japanese captain Maya Yoshida looked to have netted a header off a corner delivery past Vietnam goalkeeper Đặng Văn Lâm to open up the scoring. However, the goal was brought into question and minutes later, was disallowed after it was revealed by VAR that Yoshida’s hand had indeed touched the ball prior to it finding the back of the net.

The call proved to be huge as it kept both sides in an even, scoreless draw.

For much of the opening half, Vietnam was able to match the chances that Japan was creating, and at times, appeared to be the more dangerous side, highlighted by four great scoring opportunities.

Two of those first half chances came courtesy of Nguyễn Công Phượng, as he dissected the Japanese defense by running free in the flank and creating danger in the 14th and 27th minute.

The other two opportunities occurred in the 38th minute, with one coming off a strike by Nguyễn Quang Hải and the other off a free header by Phan Văn Đức, but Japanese goalie Gonda Shūichi ensured that his team would go into the halftime break tied at 0-0 with two big saves.

VAR once again reared its head in the final 45 minutes of play, this time, to the advantage of Samurai Blue. In the match’s 53rd minute, Japan’s Ritsu Doan was brought down by Bùi Tiến Dũng inside of Vietnam’s penalty area, but no initial call was given.

Moments after the play occurred, referee Mohammed Abdulla Hassan was called on to take a closer look at what had transpired with the assistance of VAR, and after review, ruled that Bùi Tiến Dũng committed a foul and awarded Japan with a penalty kick. Ritsu Doan subsequently converted on the opportunity in the 57th minute to put his team up 1-0.

For the remainder of the match, Vietnam was forced to play catch up, but relentless pressure from the Japanese side kept the ball out of their possession for much of that span. It wasn’t until the match’s final 15 minutes of regulation and its four minutes of extra time, that the Golden Dragons looked like they might have an equalizer in them.

With the added pressure of possibly going home, Vietnam threatened on multiple occasions, but was ultimately unable to find the back of Japan’s goal, falling to a final score of 1-0 and ending their Cinderella journey through the tournament.

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