DOHA, - Substitute Tadanari Lee struck a
stunning left-foot volley in the second period of extra-time to
give Japan a 1-0 win over Australia and a record fourth Asian
Cup title on Saturday.
Lee was afforded the freedom of the penalty area in the
109th minute to fire in a Yuto Nagatomo cross from the left as
the Blue Samurai sealed victory at the Khalifa Stadium.
"We played the entire tournament with great courage and
always sought to impose our game," Japan coach Alberto
Zaccheroni told reporters.
"We have a very young team. The bench players have made a
big contribution, just as Lee did today."
Japan enjoyed long periods of possession on a windy, chilly
night in Doha but Australia, seeking a first Asian Cup title,
had the better chances with striker Harry Kewell proving
wasteful in front of goal.
The Japanese were confident on the ball throughout yet
played at a pedestrian pace by comparison to their previous
matches. A higher tempo would perhaps have been more suitable
against Australia's more experienced but slower side.
Without the influential Shinji Kagawa, who broke his foot in
the semi-final, Japan selected Jungo Fujimoto as a replacement.
The midfielder, however, was ineffectual as the Blue Samurai
failed to create many clear first-half openings.
Australia started the second period well and came close to
taking the lead in the 48th minute when keeper Eiji Kawashima
misjudged a centre that hit the crossbar and then Tim Cahill on
the arm before Maya Yoshida hacked the ball off the line.
Japan striker Shinji Okazaki thought he had given his side
the lead in the 66th minute but his glancing header went
agonisingly wide of the far post after neat work down the left
Kewell had a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the
71st minute when he raced clean through and his low drive went
straight to Kawashima.
Japan, who also played 120 minutes in their semi-final
penalty shootout victory over South Korea on Tuesday, tired in
the extra period as they went in search of a fourth Asian Cup
after victories in 1992, 2000 and 2004.
Australia substitute Robbie Kruse's strong header in the
105th minute was clawed out by Kawashima as the Socceroos
pressed for a breakthrough.
"We had opportunities but it is crucial to convert them and
later that backfired on us. We needed to be more clinical," said
coach Holger Osieck.
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