Japan 2-2 South Korea (After Extra Time; Japan won 3-0 on penalties)
Doha, Qatar – 25/01/11
Scorers: Maeda 36, Hosogai 98 (Japan); Sung-Yeung 23 (pen), Jae-Won 120 (S. Korea)
UFWC champions Japan were given a major scare by challengers South Korea, and needed extra time and a penalty shootout to emerge victorious, and advance to the Asian Cup Final.
Japan started the game much better, constantly splitting the South Korean defence open with beautiful, flowing football. But it was South Korea who drew first blood. The referee awarded a soft penalty to South Korea, as Yasuyuki Konno and Park Ji-Sung collided in the box, the South Korean going down under the challenge. Most referees would not have awarded a penalty but Khalil Al Ghamdi did, and Ki Sung-Yeung didn’t let the chance go to waste. Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima guessed the right direction but couldn’t reach it, as the South Koreans took the lead. Koo Ja-Cheol could have made it 2-0 shortly after, but the Japanese defence recovered just in time to prevent the chance.
South Korea’s lead would only last 13 minutes, as Japan once again opened them up with slick passing, this time culminating in a goal. Yuto Nagatomo received the ball on the right of the box and placed an inch-perfect pass into the path of Ryoichi Maeda who, despite being surrounded by defenders, managed to reach the ball first and direct it into the net for the equaliser.
In the next few minutes both sides could easily have taken the lead. First South Korea, who had a free kick to the right of the box. The excellent shot was directed towards the top corner, forcing Kawashima to pull of a world-class save. The ball deflected straight to a South Korean head, whose effort was knocked off the line, Japan barely escaping. Then Japan had their own chance, as Keisuke Honda’s low piledriver forced Jung Sung-Ryong to dive to his left, producing a good save. Another close shave for South Korea shortly followed, as the teams went into half-time level, with an entertaining second-half seemingly guaranteed.
Unfortunately for neutrals that never materialised, as it seemed both teams were playing for extra-time since the restart. Chances were few and far between, with decent chances even rarer. So to save you all the misery of reading what happened in the second-half, we’ll skip straight into extra-time.
It still looked like the teams were just going to play out the game, but another penalty, this time for Japan, changed the tempo of the match. Al Ghamdi awarded a penalty for a foul on Shinji Okazaki, however even with the help of replays it is still hard to tell whether the offence happened inside or outside the box. Nevertheless, Keisuke Honda stepped up to take the penalty, but with a poor kick was saved by Sung-Ryong. Unluckily for him, he spilled it straight into the path of the oncoming Hajima Hosogai, who hit it onto the net go give Japan the lead, and seemingly the win.
However this game still had a few surprises up its sleeve, as South Korea drew level in the final minute of extra-time. A long free-kick was lobbed into the box where chaos ensued, neither side able to get a clear contact on it to clear it or shoot it. That was until it fell to Hwang Jae-Won, who struck the ball through defenders and teammates, out of the reach of Kawashima and into the bottom corner. South Korea, who were on the brink of elimination, had come up with a last-ditch effort, and would now go into the penalty shoot-out (the first shootout in the UFWC since 2006) with the momentum firmly behind them.
But it seemed nobody told Kawashima. While Japan scored their first two penalties, their goalkeeper saved both strikes from South Korea, as they were once again left on the brink of elimination. Japan missed their third penalty, firing the ball wide and over, but Hong Jeong-Ho couldn’t take advantage as he did the exact same thing, on the other side of the goal. Yasuyuki Konno stepped up, knowing a goal would be enough for victory. And it was, as the keeper guessed the wrong way, and Japan emerged from a tough encounter victorious.
Japan defended the UFWC title, and will bring it with them to the Asian Cup Final, where they will face either Australia or Uzbekistan to decide who will emerge as Asian Cup and UFWC champions. You don’t want to miss what will surely be a match to remember, and will go down in UFWC history.
UPDATE: Australia beat Uzbekistan 6-0 to reach the Asian Cup final and play Japan in the next UFWC title match on Saturday.