Birthday boy Yasuyuki Konno has admitted he was relieved to net Japan's winning penalty in a 3-0 shoot-out victory over Korea Republic in their AFC Asian Cup semi-final, after conceding a first-half penalty that could have been costly.
The FC Tokyo player, who turned 28 on the day of yesterday's game, sealed the Samurai Blue's progress to the final by calmly steering home his spot-kick after South Koreans Koo Ja-Cheol, Lee Yong-Rae and Hong Jeong-Ho had all failed from 12 yards. The game had finished 2-2 after extra-time, with Taeguk Warriors defender Hwang Jae-Won getting a last-gasp equaliser to force the game to penalties.
"This is the greatest," Konno said. "If we had lost, it would've been the worst. This is probably the best birthday I've ever had in the 28 years of my life. I mean, I won the game with my penalty. I would much rather celebrate the victory than my birthday."
Konno endured an eventful evening, heading a goal-bound Lee Chung-Yong effort off the line early on but then conceding the penalty from which Ki-Sung Yueng gave Korea Republic a 23rd-minute lead.
Ryoichi Maeda equalised soon after for Japan and they went ahead early in extra-time through substitute Hajime Hosogai, who pounced to rattle home a rebound after Keisuke Honda's penalty had been saved by Jung Sung-Ryong. Japan were on the brink of the final when Hwang thrashed home a loose ball inside the box, and Konno conceded that nerves had been his side's undoing.
"We were so preoccupied by protecting our goal that we pushed ourselves into our own half," he said. "They were just launching it and we couldn't beat them in the air.
"We should have finished the game 2-1. The last goal really hurt. But the entire bench was behind us, trying to help us forget about it and telling us that the game was anything but over."
Japan will meet Australia in Saturday's decider.