Sunday 30 January 2011

Asian Cup Special 12 – Japan 1-0 Australia final report

2011 AFC Asian Cup final result
1-0 Australia (after extra time)
Goal: Lee (109)

It was, in the end, perhaps fitting that the advent of a new era for Japan under Alberto Zaccheroni be crowned with a spectacular goal, deep into extra time, by a substitute of Korean ancestry making only the second appearance of his nascent international career.

After 109 minutes of pulsating, yet somehow goalless football, a wicked cross from the ever-industrious Yuto Nagatomo on the left-hand flank found Tadanari Lee unmarked inside the Australian penalty area. The naturalised, fourth-generation Korean-Japanese – who represented South Korea at under-19 level and had only been introduced to this final ten minutes earlier in place of Ryoichi Maeda – turned quickly to smash home an unstoppable left-footed volley past the motionless Mark Schwarzer.

The stunned Socceroos continued to display plenty of enterprise, but lacking the necessary resources in front of goal, were unable to muster an equaliser in the short time that remained. Once again, Australia’s assault on their adopted continent had been dramatically ended by Japan, who celebrated the win that confirmed a record fourth Asian Cup success.

After Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa had been forced to fly back to Germany with a broken fifth metatarsal, Zaccheroni ultimately opted for Jungo Fujimoto – whose previous involvement in this tournament had totalled one minute – as his replacement in the starting eleven. The choice necessitated a slight reshuffle in midfield, with Shinji Okazaki switching flanks to accommodate Fujimoto on the right.

The only other change in personnel from Tuesday’s penalty shootout win over South Korea was a return from suspension for defender Maya Yoshida in place of Daiki Iwamasa. Australia manager Holger Osieck unsurprisingly remained faithful to the line-up that had hammered Uzbekistan 6-0 in the last four.

Both sides began the final in positive fashion, generously warming up the 37,174-strong crowd at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha with a series of early attacks and counterattacks. Japan were almost handed the lead in bizarre circumstances after just eight minutes, when Schwarzer caught his studs in the turf attempting a clearance, but Nagatomo’s quick thinking failed to produce the desired result as his long effort sailed over.

As the first half developed, it was the Australians who settled into their rhythm more effectively. As Japanese passes went astray with the attacking midfield three lacking their usual fluency, their opponents repeatedly found space on the right for Brett Holman and Luke Wilkshire to test defence and goalkeeper with a series of high crosses.

Eiji Kawashima did well to block at near point-blank range when Harry Kewell diverted a goalbound header from Tim Cahill, and the Galatasaray man blasted another attempt into the side netting on the half-hour mark after Cahill had expertly headed back into his path from Lucas Neill’s deep cross.

Japan’s best opportunity of the half came six minutes afterwards when Keisuke Honda – later named as the tournament’s MVP – sliced the Australia back four apart with a brilliant pass to Yasuhito Endo. The Gamba Osaka midfielder, however, opted to cut back to an unprepared Maeda, whose first-time shot flew over the crossbar.

Australia retained their momentum to begin the second half on the front foot, and Kawashima was highly fortunate to escape when caught embarrassingly off guard by a looping cross from Wilkshire. The ball dropped over the Lierse goalkeeper, off the far post, and then back into the goalframe again after rebounding into Cahill before the Japanese defenders were finally able to clear.

The incident provoked a tactical switch from Zaccheroni that immediately restored equilibrium and eventually proved decisive. Iwamasa was brought on for the ineffectual Fujimoto, with Yasuyuki Konno shifted across to left-back, Nagatomo advancing into left midfield, and Okazaki swapping back over to the right.

Soon afterwards, the repositioned players fashioned Japan’s best moment to that point, as Nagatomo’s powerful cross misled the Australian defenders and left Okazaki with a low header that spun fractionally wide of the far post.

The new defensive pairing of Yoshida and Iwamasa betrayed a lack of communication, however, as both players allowed the ball to bounce only for Kewell to react more quickly and race through on goal. Kawashima stood tall to block with an outstretched right foot.

There was another tense moment in the last of the 90 minutes when Atsuto Uchida had to intercept a shot from David Carney following Yoshida’s poor clearance, with neither side curbing their attacking intentions as the game moved into extra time.

Brett Emerton hit a side-footed effort narrowly over from 20 yards before combining moments later with fellow substitute Robbie Kruse, only for Kawashima to react well and push the latter’s high header onto the crossbar. In response, Honda saw a powerful effort fly narrowly past Schwarzer’s left-hand post from just outside the penalty area.

Four years ago, Japan had needed a penalty shootout to dispose of the Australians, and for all the attractive play it appeared as if a repeat was on the cards until Nagatomo and Lee worked their magic in the fourth minute of the second period of extra time.


Speaking to Japanese television moments after the final whistle, Zaccheroni displayed rare emotion and unconfined joy at an Asian Cup success achieved after just four months and eight matches at the helm.

“This was a fantastic win and Japan are a fantastic team,” beamed the Italian. “Australia were a really strong side and we had to do extremely well to beat them. Everyone was tired, but we overcame that through fantastic team spirit.

“I had every faith that Lee could do something if I brought him on, and he scored a great goal. The strength of this team is that the players starting on the bench can always come on and make a significant contribution.

“I want the Japanese people to be proud of their national team – believe me, this team is really good.

Goal hero Lee commented “I hadn’t played much throughout this competition, but I always believed I could take the chance if given to me. I’m really pleased to have been a part of it all.”

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