Japan took revenge for their 2002 AFC U-20 Championship Final loss with a dramatic and improbable golden-goal victory over tense rivals Korea Republic in Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan stadium on 8 December 2003. Two goals from second-half substitute Daisuke Sakata, including a golden goal in the last minute of the first extra-time period sent Japan though to the quarter-finals, where they will now play the winner of the Brazil v. Slovakia clash in Dubai on 12 December. Korea, meanwhile, head for home ruing a missed opportunity.
The Koreans took control of the match from the outset as a fine piece of midfield interplay presented them with a golden opportunity. A fine ball down the right flank from Lee Ho to Lee Jong Min had the Japanese defence at sixes and sevens. And a picture-perfect cross from the midfielder picked out Cho Won Hee some six metres from goal. But with a bit of time and space he somehow failed to keep his header down, nodding harmlessly over the bar (5’).
Up against a disciplined Korean side and hindered by a cluttered midfield, Japan were only rarely able to show their trademark flair in the first 45 minutes. But after a lovely bit of midfield build-up between Hiroto Mogi and Yutaro Abe, they came inches from getting on the board. But when the ball fell finally to creator Sho Naruoka alone in the box, he could only shoot wide (33’).
Kim Dong Hun roared straight back the other way, and looked to have earned himself a penalty when keeper Eiji Kawashimi came flying off his line. But all the big striker got for his troubles was a yellow for diving (36’). Hardly deterred, the Koreans grabbed the game’s opening goal just seconds later. When Choi Sung Kuk stretched to his limits to reach Lee Jong Min’s sliced ball from the right, a toe was just enough as his flicked shot sailed brilliantly up and over a woefully out-of-position Japanese keeper (0-1, 38’).
The Koreans came out from the halftime break on the attack again. Lee Jong Min’s well lofted cross from the right was hit in a blare by Jip Kwon, but the volley skipped just past the post (50’).
Wave after wave of Korean attacks had Japan well and truly on the back foot. And another goal looked to be on the way when captain Choi Sung Kuk slipped in behind the Japanese defence with acres of space. Deciding to shoot early, the midfielder could only steer his chipped shot over Kim Young Kwang’s crossbar (74’).
ut thoroughly uninspired for the lion’s share of the match, the Japanese somehow conspired to draw level. Coach Ohkuma Kiyoshi looked every inch the tactical genius as his second-half substitute Daisuke Sakata weaved through the Korean defence and kept his cool to slot past Kim (1-1, 82’).
Korea nearly took it late when Lee Ho’s late free kick was only just pushed away by Kawashima (89’). But it was not to be, as the finals saw their first overtime session.
Perhaps the miss of the competition came at the start of the first extra-time period. Bouncing off the back of a Japanese defender, the ball fell perfectly for Kim Dong Hun. But somehow the striker slammed his unobstructed shot high and wide from just ten metres (93).
Korea continued to own the proceedings, but wasteful finishing was proving to be a serious problem. And they were almost made to pay for it when substitute Sota Hirayama slammed a stunning 20-metre drive against the crossbar (98’).
In the end the Koreans were made to pay when goal hero Sakata collected a perfect through ball from Yasuyuki Konno and volleyed home extravagantly for his second goal of the match and fourth of the finals (2-1, 105’).
After the match, the always-dignified Korean boss Park Sun Wha addressed throngs of reporters. “Both sides did their best today,” he said. “Of course it is always special when Korea and Japan meet, especially this time as it was the first time we have met in a FIFA finals. Toward the end of the match it was obvious that our team was getting tired and the biggest problem was that we failed to take advantage of our chances and kill off the game.”
Japanese coach Ohkuma was predictably thrilled with his side’s result. “Early on I was not satisfied with the performance of my team, especially in attack,” he said. “But I knew as the match progressed that we would get better and create our chances.”
“Since not many of our players have played in a match of this magnitude, I decided to start only the players with the most experience and emotional maturity,” Ohkuma said when asked why he had not used Sakata from the start.