Japan booked their place in the Asian Cup final by beating rivals South Korea on penalties following a thrilling encounter at Al Gharafa Stadium.
Ki Sung-yong's 23rd-minute penalty put the Koreans ahead before Ryoichi Maeda
levelled nine minutes before half-time.
Neither side were able to add a second before the end of 90 minutes, taking the
game to extra time. Hajime Hosogai's 97th-minute goal put the Japanese ahead
only for Hwang Jae-won to strike with seconds remaining to force penalties.
Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Yasuyuki Konno all scored from their
spot-kicks while South Korea failed to convert theirs to send Japan through to
The match threw together two of the best teams in Asia and unsurprisingly it
was an open contest from the outset.
Okazaki headed wide after nine minutes before going closer in the 18th minute
when his downward headed was pushed onto the post by South Korea goalkeeper Jung
But it was the Koreans who drew first blood five minutes later. Yasuyuki Konno
fouled Park Ji-sung inside the area and Ki stepped up to send the spot-kick to
Eiji Kawashima's left.
It was the third time in five games that Japan have conceded first at the
tournament but on both previous occasions they successfully battled back and
once again drew level nine minutes before the break.
Honda's fine pass sent Yuto Nagamoto through to run into the box before the
defender cut a pass back to Maeda, who was waiting in the middle of the area,
and the forward made no mistake to fire beyond Jung.
After a superb first half it was expected that the second would continue in the
same vein but chances were largely at a premium.
Koo Ja-cheol had a good chance for the Koreans when he burst past two defenders
after being picked out by Ji Dong-won, but his shot went into the side-netting.
Lee Yong-rae curled a 71st-minute free-kick just wide before Okazaki twice had
half chances, but the two sides could not be separated before the whistle,
meaning extra time was needed.
Japan had looked second best to the Koreans for much of the second half but it
was they who took the lead in the 97th minute. Okazaki was pushed just inside
the area by Hwang Jae-won and, although Okazaki's penalty was saved by Jung,
Hosogai pounced to smash home the loose ball.
The South Koreans pressed for an equaliser but it seemed Japan had done enough
to secure the victory before Hwang capitalised on a goalmouth scramble to sweep
home and take the game to penalties.
Kawashima then made two saves for Japan and Hong Jeong-ho sent his spot-kick
wide before Konno successfully converted Japan's third penalty to send them
through to the final.
After the match Alberto Zaccheroni hailed the performance of Eiji Kawashima with the coach confident the goalkeeper has proven his worth as Japan's number one.
"There are no goalkeepers who do not make mistakes, they do not exist," he said. "A couple of days ago I told Kawashima I trust him very much. I told him that again today and throughout the game he performed much better than I expected."
The match lived up to expectations of being one of the most tightly contested
of the tournament and Zaccheroni conceded it could have gone either way during
the course of the 120 minutes.
But once penalties were needed the former AC Milan boss was confident his
players would have the mental strength to prevail.
"It was a very tight match," he added. "Looking at the first half we were better than them, especially with our
attacking and combination play.
"In the second half, Korea were better than us, especially because they pushed
us with their physical ability. They could run more than us as well.
"In the penalties I told the players to forget the goal we conceded at the
end. I told them to have the confidence to take the penalty shoot-out and win.
"This team plays as a team, this is their mentality and we showed that
For South Korea it was their second successive game at the Asian Cup that had
gone to extra-time and boss Cho Kwang-rae conceded that ultimately took its toll
on his players.
"I would like to thank my players for playing hard in a second game that went
to extra-time," he said.
"I am quite satisfied with the players and how they approached the game. I am
personally surprised with their sharpness and ability to control the game until
"How they approach a game has developed well in a short period of time at the
tournament. We showed how Korean football can be developed in the future."