Japan, Australia into Asian Cup final
Doha: Japan beat South Korea in a penalty shootout yesterday to line up an Asian Cup final against Australia, which routed 10-man Uzbekistan 6-0.
The two games couldn’t have been more different. In a back-and-forth encounter, Japan came from a goal down to take the lead before South Korea equalized in the final seconds of extra time. With the score locked at 2-2, Japan won 3-0 on penalties.
Australia forward Harry Kewell scored inside five minutes, helping his team to a 3-0 lead by the time Uzbekistan went down to 10 men in the 65th minute. Australia went on to record the tournament’s record semifinal win.
Seeking its third title, South Korea opened the scoring against Japan with a penalty in the 23rd minute before Japan leveled in the 36th. Keisuke Honda sent a perfect through ball to Yuto Nagatomo on the left flank and he crossed low for striker Ryoichi Maeda.
Japan took the lead in the 98th, when Hwang Jae Won brought down Shinji Okazaki at the edge of the penalty box, and a controversial penalty was awarded. Keisuke Honda missed the spot-kick but substitute midfielder Hajime Hosogai followed through to drive the ball into the roof of the net.
Just as Japan looked to have won it, South Korea defender Hwang Jae-won equalized to send the match to penalties, but his team couldn’t find the net after that.
“It was a very tough, very tight game,” Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said.
“We were better in the first half, especially on the flanks, and had three big chances - but we conceded early.”
“South Korea outran us in the second half. They are a very good team and winning against a very good team makes it even sweeter.”
South Korea coach Cho Kwang-rae praised his players for managing to tie the match in the end but blamed their poor penalty shooting on fatigue after playing their second, extra time match in a row.
“I do appreciate all the hard work of my players on Wednesday,” Cho said. “They never gave up and controlled the game, pressurized and in last minute scored a second goal to level the match. We showed how strong we are, our fighting spirit and a passion to play good football.”
But Cho also criticized the refereeing and said he hoped it would it would be better in the future to avoid it hurting the image of the Asian Cup.
“It was quite strange when the referee pointed outside the penalty area and the linesman pointed inside,” Cho said of the late Japanese penalty. “It’s part of the game and I respect the decision of the referee.”
Uzbekistan came into its first semifinal talking confidently about facing a team it insisted was not Brazil. But once it took the pitch, its defense fell apart and
Australia - which had scored seven goals all tournament - scored at will.
“We had brilliant game on Wednesday. The players put on great show, a great performance,” Australian Coach Holger Osieck said. “What they did on Wednesday is fantastic. ... It is the right present for the Australian public.”
After Kewell’s goal, the Uzbeks went 2-0 down in the 34th minute when Tim Cahill headed down a free kick. Sasa Ognenovski had time to take a touch before ramming the ball home for his first international goal.
David Carney made it 3-0 in the 65th after being played in by Matt McKay, and Uzbekistan’s chances of victory ended when Ulugbek Bakaev was sent off two minutes later for his second booking.
Substitute Brett Emerton scored the fourth in the 74th before Carl Valeri and Robbie Kruse - courtesy of a goalkeeper error - wrapped up the scoring with two goals in two minutes.
The Uzbek Coach Vadim Abramov apologized to Uzbek fans and was at a loss to explain his team’s poor play.
“I don’t know what happened. There were too many mistakes after the first two goals,” he said, criticizing defender Anzur Ismailov for his ineffectiveness and the team for attacking with abandoned toward the end of the match.
“When you are down 3-0 and down to nine men and you go on attack, you have many problems,” he said.