Zaccheroni salutes keeper Kawashima
Eiji Kawashima earned the plaudits of his coach Alberto Zaccheroni after the Japan goalkeeper's penalty shootout heroics against South Korea today helped send the Blue Samurai through to the final of the AFC Asian Cup.
The Koreans took the semi-final at Al Gharafa Stadium to penalties when Hwang Jae-won made it 2-2 at the end of extra-time with a dramatic last-gasp equaliser. But Kawashima gave his side a boost with two spot-kick saves while Hong Jeong-ho sent his effort wide and Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Yasuyuki Konno all successfully converted their penalties to send Japan through to Saturday's final, where they will face Australia after the Socceroos beat Uzbekistan 6-0.
And Zaccheroni hailed the performance of Kawashima with the Italian coach confident the keeper has proven his worth as Japan's number one. "There are no goalkeepers who do not make mistakes, they do not exist," he said. "A couple of days ago I told Kawashima I trust him very much. I told him that again today and throughout the game he performed much better than I expected."
The match lived up to expectations of being one of the most tightly contested of the tournament and Zaccheroni conceded it could have gone either way during the course of the 120 minutes.
But once penalties were needed the former AC Milan boss was confident his players would have the mental strength to prevail. "It was a very tight match," he added. "Looking at the first half we were better than them, especially with our attacking and combination play.
"In the second half, Korea were better than us, especially because they pushed us with their physical ability. They could run more than us as well," he went on. "In the penalties I told the players to forget the goal we conceded at the end. I told them to have the confidence to take the penalty shoot-out and win. This team plays as a team, this is their mentality and we showed that today."
For South Korea it was their second successive game at the Asian Cup that had gone to extra-time and boss Cho Kwang-rae conceded that ultimately took its toll on his players. "I would like to thank my players for playing hard in a second game that went to extra-time," he said. "I am quite satisfied with the players and how they approached the game. I am personally surprised with their sharpness and ability to control the game until the end.
"How they approach a game has developed well in a short period of time at the tournament," he added. "We showed how Korean football can be developed in the future."