Japan beat Australia 1-0 in the final of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 on Saturday to become the first team in the 55-year history of the competition to win it four times.
The Samurai Blue’s narrow extra-time victory ensured they ended the competition unbeaten and earned them a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013. The Australians, who host the next continental finals in four years' time, could at least take consolation from the fact that they had reached the final in only their second appearance in the competition.
Third place in the tournament went to Korea Republic, who overcame Uzbekistan 3-2 on Friday.
Australia 0-1 Japan (aet), Saturday 29 January 2011, Khalifa International Stadium, Doha*
*Goal: Tadanari Lee 109
Showing plenty of intent from the off, the Australians created the first opportunity of the game after only 45 seconds, when Harry Kewell’s powerfully struck drive was well collected by Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who then pulled off an even better stop to claw away Tim Cahill’s goal-bound header, with Kewell poised to pounce.
The Socceroos kept the pressure on in the second half and almost took the lead three minutes in when Cahill bundled the ball goalwards after Luke Wilkshire’s cross had come back off the bar. Alert to the danger, Maya Yoshida made a last-ditch clearance off the line. With 18 minutes remaining, Kewell had another opportunity to put the Aussies in front when he raced clear on goal only to shoot straight at Kawashima.
Australia went close again four minutes into extra time, when substitute Robbie Kruse hit the bar with a looping header, before a sweeping Japanese move ended when Keisuke Honda fired just wide of Mark Schwarzer’s left-hand post. With penalties looming the Blues won the day with a superbly-taken goal, Yuto Nagatomo’s cross from the left finding its way to substitute Tadanari Lee, whose immaculate first-time volley gave Schwarzer no chance.
Match for third place
Uzbekistan 2-3 Korea Republic, Friday 28 January 2011, Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha
Goals: Koo Ja-Cheol 18, Ji Dong-Won 28 and 39 (Korea Republic); Uzbekistan: Alexander Geynrikh 45 pen and 53.
Appearing in their second consecutive third-place play-off, Korea Republic underlined their status as favourites by surging into a three-goal lead in the first half, tournament top-scorer Koo Ja-Cheol hitting the opener to take his competition tally to five. Ji Dong-Won’s brace put the Taeguk Warriors in complete control, raising the prospect of another heavy defeat for the Uzbeks, who crashed to a 6-0 reverse at the hands of Australia in the semi-finals.
Determined to avoid that fate again, Vadim Abramov’s side struck back just before the interval through an Alexander Geynrikh penalty, the Pakhtakor player then putting the central Asian side back in contention with a fine solo goal eight minutes after the break. That was the end of the scoring, however, as the South Koreans held on to take third place on the podium for the fourth time in their history.
Tadanari Lee (Japan)
Though Lee’s sole appearance in the finals to date had come in Japan’s opening 1-1 draw with Jordan, that did not stop him from deciding the fate of a tightly-contested final. Eleven minutes were all the supersub needed to turn the game Japan’s way and secure their fourth continental crown.
Atonement for Endo
Suspended from Japan’s defeat of China PR in the 2004 final, the result of a red card against Bahrain in the semi-finals, defensive midfielder Yasuhito Endo was determined to make his mark against Australia. Accounting for a staggering 21.7% of the balls the Japanese recovered in Saturday’s final, Endo played no small part in his side’s hard-fought victory.
With only an hour to go before kick-off time Saturday, the stands at the Khalifa International Stadium were largely empty. Yet by the time referee Ravshan Irmatov blew the whistle to bring the first half to a close, a crowd of some 37,174 spectators had gathered to watch a gripping game unfold.
Going out in style
Friday’s third-place play-off was the final act in Korea Republic defender Lee Young-Pyo’s international career. After being tossed high into the air by his team-mates, Lee was then chaired towards the South Korean fans, who had stayed on to pay tribute to the retiring stalwart.
4 - The number of Asian Cup finals that have now gone to extra time, today’s game being the third to have ended goalless after 90 minutes. The two previous instances were the 1988 and 1996 finals. Four is also the number of finals Japan have contested, all of which they have won.
What they said
"It’s a tremendous victory for us. I said to my players before the competition started that we’d end up as champions, and that’s what’s happened. That was a convincing performance from them today and we’ve proved we’re a real unit with a lot of potential. The players showed their mettle in the semi-final against Korea Republic, and today we did the same against a well-organised and physically strong team," Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan coach.
"We didn’t expect to lose. The players still can’t believe it and there was a real sense of dejection in the dressing rooms. The result has come as a big shock for them. All the same I’m proud of them and they’ve come on enormously. We couldn’t quite get over the line today despite all the chances we made, and if you don’t score, then you don’t win," Holger Osieck, Australia coach.