Lee wins Asian Cup for Japan

Samurai Blue down Australia 1-0 to lift record fourth Asian Cup thanks to extra time strike from rookie substitute.

A host of chances had been missed by both sides before Lee came on to mark a dream start to his Japan career [AFP]

It all came down to that most basic of coaching instructions. Just stick the ball in the net.

After an Asian Cup final of many chances but woeful finishing, Tadanari Lee came on as an extra-time substitute to execute a perfectly-struck volley and give Japan a record fourth Asian Cup trophy with a 1-0 win over Australia on Saturday.

Nearly 30 attempts on goal had gone begging at Khalifa Stadium when Lee, a 25-year-old who played for South Korea at under-19 level, marked his 11th minute on the pitch by dropping his right shoulder and unleashing an unstoppable left-footed volley past Mark Schwarzer.

It came after a tireless Yuto Nagatomo tormented his marker yet again to find Lee, who has just a handful of caps for Japan, completely unmarked 10 yards out.

Australia exerted late pressure but Japan held on to deny the Socceroos a first Asian Cup trophy since joining the continent’s football confederation from Oceania in 2006.

Last chance

For veteran attacker Harry Kewell, the match in Doha was the last realistic chance to cap a stellar career with a meaningful international trophy.

Kewell missed Australia’s best chance when his one-on-one was saved by Kawashima [AFP]

And the former Leeds United and Liverpool man will be left to rue the best of a host of chances both sides had to find the net.

Seventy two minutes had been played when Kewell, 32, headed beyond the last defender and ran onto his own ball.

But with the whole goal to aim at, his shot was too close to Eiji Kawashima and the keeper, a hero in Japan’s semi-final penalty shootout win over South Korea, saved with his feet.

Kawashima came to the rescue again three minutes before full time when Yasuyuki Konno’s underhit backpass was raced onto by Kewell.

But as Konno’s shoulders slumped in resignation, Kawashima darted from his line to smother the ball at Kewell’s feet.

Kewell was taken off 13 minutes into extra time and his replacement, Robbie Kruse, almost made a decisive impact a minute later, but the 22-year-old’s looping header was palmed onto the bar by Kawashima.

Australia had appealed for a goal just after half time when a dipping Brett Holman cross went over Kawashima at the far post, where Tim Cahill was waiting.

The Everton man got a touch before the Japanese defence hacked the ball away, with replays showing that his effort had not crossed the line.

Japan should have scored in the 66th minute when Nagatomo sent in a cross that Shinji Okazaki could only head wide.

Fitting end

It was left to Lee, whose South Korean name is Lee Chung-sung, to show up the profligacy of others when he finally gave Nagatomo reward for the left back’s rampages down the wing and provide a fitting end to Qatar 2011.

“We played the entire tournament with great courage and always sought to impose our game,” said Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan’s Italian coach.

“We have a very young team. The substitutes made a big contribution, as Lee did today.”

An absorbing first half had taken just over a minute to spring to life when Australian winger Matt McKay’s shot from the left was screwed just wide of Kawashima’s post.

Two minutes later a skimmed header from Keisuke Honda was easily gathered by Schwarzer, but the English Premier League stalwart almost gifted Japan the lead five minutes later.

Sprinting to prevent a corner, the Fulham goalkeeper fell awkwardly as he slid to keep the ball in play.

He managed that much, but was lying helplessly off the pitch as the ball fell to Nagatomo, who should have done better with his long-range chip over an empty net.

Australia had their best chance on 16 minutes when a low Holman cross was begging to be turned in by Cahill or Carl Valeri, but both missed the ball under pressure from the Japanese centre backs.

Japan absorbed a long period of aerial pressure as crosses from Luke Wilkshire and McKay posed a danger that didn’t quite translate into a clear chance on goal, before the Socceroos’ best move saw Kewell volley into the side netting after a lovely setup from Cahill.

The Samurai Blue cranked their passing game into gear and should have taken the lead when Honda played a precise through-ball to Yasuhito Endo in the box.

Given a clear shooting chance, the Gamba Osaka midfielder nicknamed Mr Cool opted to square instead for Ryoichi Maeda. But the ball was slightly behind the striker and he shot over as 37,000 fans inside the Khalifa Stadium, not for the first time on the night, held their heads in disbelief.

Source: Al Jazeera


As the climax of the tournament approaches, with a final between Australia and Japan, our correspondent reflects on the

26 Jan 2011
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