HANOI, July 25 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia ended Japan's bid for a third straight Asian Cup title on Wednesday, Malek Maaz scoring twice in a 3-2 win to send the Saudis into the final.
Maaz sent his nation into their sixth final in the last
seven tournaments with a superb solo goal, wriggling past three
Japan defenders before smashing the ball into the top corner.
'We're delighted,' Saudi Arabia coach Helio Cesar dos Anjos
told reporters. 'To beat the best team in Asia means so much.
It was the best game of the Asian Cup.'
Saudi Arabia, who lifted the Asian Cup in 1984, 1988 and
1996, face Iraq on Sunday in Jakarta after the Iraqis knocked
out South Korea on penalties to reach their first final.
'Tonight was a huge victory for Arab football,' said
Brazilian Anjos. 'I hope it will bring peace and happiness to
the people of Iraq and also in Saudi Arabia.'
The Saudis had never previously beaten Japan at the Asian
Cup, including defeats in the 1992 and 2000 finals, but they
were the sharper team throughout in Hanoi.
Saudi captain Yasser Al Qahtani had volleyed his side in
front in the 35th minute but Japan took just two minutes to
pull level through defender Yuji Nakazawa's towering header.
Maaz restored Saudi Arabia's lead with a bullet header two
minutes into the second half only for Yuki Abe to equalise
again for Japan with an acrobatic volley in the 53rd minute.
'We let them off the hook,' shrugged Japan's Bosnian coach
Ivica Osim. 'We had more chances but couldn't take them. They
had three and scored them all.
'We looked tired and we ran out of ideas. One or two of our
key players simply didn't play well enough.'
Japan, who had beaten Australia in a penalty shootout in
the quarter-finals, take on South Korea in the third-place
playoff in Palembang, Indonesia on Saturday.