Japan edge Australia 1-0 to win Asian Cup

Doha: Tadanari Lee scored an extra-time
winner as Japan edged Australia 1-0 to win a pulsating Asian
Cup final and become the most successful team in the history
of the competition.

The unmarked substitute sent a stunning left-foot volley
past the diving Mark Schwarzer in the 109th minute to hand his
country their fourth title at the continental showcase, a feat
no-one else has achieved.

The win, following their successes in 1992, 2000 and
2004, carried the added bonus of an automatic place at the
2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil -- the traditional World Cup
warm-up tournament.

It followed a deadlocked match at 90 minutes that sent
the game into extra-time, with penalties looking likely until
Lee worked his magic.

Both teams had scored 13 times before the final and
Australia looked most likely to add to that early on.

Harry Kewell had the first shot on target in the opening
minute, an ambitious long-range drive that didn`t trouble Eiji
Kawashima, while Matt McKay sliced a decent opportunity from
inside the box just seconds later.

Schwarzer, who marked a significant milestone by
surpassing Alex Tobin to set a new record for the most capped
Socceroo ever on his 88th appearance, also found himself in
action at the other end.

The 38-year-old, though, had Keisuke Honda`s half-chance
easily covered.

Australia were looking strong with Japan missing the
spark of Shinji Kagawa, who broke a bone in his foot in their
penalty shoot-out win over South Korea in the last four.

The Australians should have gone ahead on 15 minutes when
Brett Holman whipped a low cross into the area but the
stretching Carl Valeri could not connect.

In a dangerous period for Japan, Tim Cahill`s header
forced a desperate one-handed save from Kawashima moments
later as the Socceroos upped the ante.

Lucas Neill, Cahill and Kewell then linked well on the
half-hour mark, only for the former Liverpool man`s
half-volley to hit the side-netting.

Holger Osieck`s side had only conceded one goal ahead of
the final and Japan were struggling to penetrate their defence
until Ryoichi Maeda finally found himself in space on the edge
of the area, only to hook his shot over the bar.

Japan were working hard to build attacks, but they were
breaking down too easily.

As they did in the first half, Australia came out after
the break with real verve and almost took the lead on 49
minutes when Luke Wilkshire`s cross hit the bar and Cahill
tried to bundle in the rebound.

Australia claimed a goal but it was not given and replays
showed the ball did not go over the line.

Japan also had their chances, with Yuto Nagamoto turning
Wilkshire inside-out and delivering a perfect cross to Shinji
Okazaki, whose header skimmed just past the post with
Schwarzer stranded.

It was anyone`s game, and Kewell will have kicked himself
for not doing better on 71 minutes when he had just the keeper
to beat, but Kawashima stuck out his right boot to save a
certain goal.

He was Japan`s saviour again as the clocked ticked down
when he rushed out to collect a loose ball ahead of the
charging Kewell, as the match headed into extra-time.

Tiredness was creeping in and Kewell went off to be
replaced by Robbie Kruse, who almost made a dream start with
Kawashima tipping his header onto the bar with the young
striker`s first touch of the game.

Honda went close at the other end before the dangerous
Nagamoto weaved down the left and found the unmarked Lee at
the back post, the 25-year-old cleanly hitting his volley for
his first international goal.

Bureau Report