Japan eye first gold, UAE sense upset

Japan's men are hoping to emulate their female colleagues in winning a first Asian Games football title, but the United Arab Emirates stand in their way, gunning to pull off a major upset.

For one of the region's major football powers, Asian Games glory for Japan is long overdue. On Monday its women's team beat Korea DPR 1-0 in their final, lifting the country's first-ever Asian Games football title for either sex. The men will be hoping to make it a double against the UAE on Thursday to end a long drought stretching back to 1951, when India won football gold in the inaugural Asian Games. In the other match Korea Republic will face Iran for bronze.

Japan came from a goal down to squeeze 2-1 past a physically superior Iran, the four-time champions, to book their finals place. It was the first goal Japan had conceded at the Games in six matches.

Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka said his young charges - an Under-21 team gearing up for the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament - were growing stronger with every game. "I believe all our players are becoming mentally tougher and are playing better as a team. I'm satisfied with each of them and their growth," he said.

Japan will be looking for Kensuke Nagai to fire them to glory. He has already scored five times, including the winner against Iran.

United Arab Emirates have surpassed expectations in reaching the gold-medal decider, having never reached the final before. But they face a race against time to recover from two gruelling knock-out ties - their quarter-final against North Korea went to extra-time and then penalties, which the UAE won 9-8.

They then played 120 minutes of tense football against the more fancied South Korea, snatching victory in injury time. "Our team played two matches lasting 120 minutes over these last four days and our players are a bit tired," said head coach Mahdi Ali Redha.

"But this is our first time qualifying for the final at the Asian Games, which is really very precious for us. We will analyse this match to make adjustments to our team and we will also analyse Japan to challenge them for the gold medal.

"At our first press conference I said our goal at this Asian Games was to prepare for the Olympic Games qualifiers and to try our best for a medal. Now we are here and I'm delighted with our team's performance."