The Socceroos suffered heartbreak in their bid to lift the Asian Cup for the first time as Japan won Saturday's final 1-0 in extra time in Doha.
Substitute Tadanari Lee struck in the 109th minute to shatter Australia's hopes and give Japan a record fourth Asian Cup title, their third in the past four tournaments.
The Socceroos were gallant in an enthralling contest played in front of 37,174 fans at Khalifa Stadium but it was a single defensive lapse that cost them.
Yuto Nagatomo beat off Luke Wilkshire on the left flank and sent in a curling cross and Lee, a 99th minute substitute, was left totally unmarked to smash a well-taken volley past Mark Schwarzer.
It was a cruel blow for an Australian defence which had until that point been brilliant in deflecting Japan's attack, with captain Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski particularly impressive.
The loss revived memories of Australia's first Asian Cup campaign in 2007, when they were dumped out by Japan in the quarter-finals.
It also cruelled a chance for veterans such as Neill, Schwarzer, Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton to claim a piece of silverware for a golden age of Australian football that included qualifying for back-to-back World Cups.
The match went to extra time after a scoreless but entertaining 90 minutes in which both sides created several good opportunities.
Australia started brightly with Matt McKay, who kept his place in the starting line-up ahead of Emerton, squandering a chance in only the second minute after some impressive build-up from Tim Cahill, Brett Holman and Carl Valeri.
The Socceroos suffered a scare when Schwarzer fell awkwardly while making a clearance off the goal line but the gloveman, who broke Alex Tobin's caps record in his 88th appearance, played on.
Some brilliant service from Wilkshire and David Carney created a host of chances in the air, with Cahill ever present and Kewell forcing a great reaction save from man-of-the-match Eiji Kawashima in the 19th minute.
Japan kept the ball well to take the sting out of Australia's momentum and also looked the part going forward, with brilliant midfielders Keisuke Honda and Yasushito Endo pulling the strings.
Australia thought they had taken the lead three minutes into the second half when a Wilkshire cross struck the bar and was almost bundled in by Cahill and referee Ravshan Irmatov rightly called play on despite Socceroos claims the ball had crossed the line.
Holger Osieck introduced Emerton in the 65th minute for a tiring Holman and Japan should have taken the lead a minute later with their best chance.
Yuto Nagatomo found Shinji Okazaki with a pin-point cross, but the striker glanced his header agonisingly wide with Schwarzer beaten.
It was then Australia's turn to miss a golden opportunity when Kewell cleverly beat Daiki Iwamasa to get one-on-one with Kawashima but the goalkeeper made a brilliant save with his feet.
The end-to-end action continued in extra time, with Emerton scuffing a good chance in the 103rd minute before Osieck handed Kruse a enormous opportunity off the bench in place of Kewell.
The Melbourne Victory striker almost scored with his first touch, forcing another brilliant save out of Kawashima with an inch-perfect header.
But with the match seemingly heading for penalties, it was Japan who made the breakthrough, breaching Australia's defence for only the second time in the tournament.
Socceroos young and old sank with agony and were visibly devastated when the final whistle blew and the Japanese camp exploded into celebrations.