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Japan blows chance to win E. Asian title

by Andrew Mckirdy

Japan had to settle for third place in the four-nation East Asian Football Championship after a frantic, incident-packed 3-1 defeat to South Korea on Sunday.

Japan went into the match at National Stadium needing to beat the Koreans by at least two goals to pip China for the title, and took the lead in the 23rd minute when Yasuhito Endo converted a penalty awarded after Marcus Tulio Tanaka had been dragged down in the box.

But the visitors hit back with a penalty of their own through Lee Dong Gook 10 minutes later, before Lee Seung Yeoul’s long-range strike deflected off Yuji Nakazawa — winning his 100th cap — to put South Korea in front.

Tulio was then red-carded for an off-the-ball kick at a prone opponent, and Kim Jung Woo joined him with a second booking after the interval. But Kim Jae Sung set the seal on South Korea’s win with a sweet strike midway through the second half, giving China overall tournament honors thanks to a 2-0 victory over Hong Kong earlier in the day.

“We played with a much better tempo compared to the previous games, but the defense took too long to build up the attacks,” said Japan manager Takeshi Okada. “The Koreans didn’t really break through our defense but when we needed to clear our lines we didn’t.

“I thought my players would get back to full fitness a lot quicker than they did, and I have to apologize for failing to win this tournament at home. I can’t make any excuses, and we have to keep moving forward. We can’t stop here.”

Okada promised to select his best team from the previous two weeks’ games, and there was no room for Mitsuo Ogasawara or Sota Hirayama as the manager fielded the same lineup that started last weekend’s 0-0 draw with China.

But if Nakazawa thought his century of caps would bring him the limelight, Tulio had other ideas. First the Nagoya Grampus man earned Japan a penalty when South Korean captain Oh Beom Seok hauled him down as he tried to connect with Endo’s free kick, and Endo stepped up himself to send 2002 World Cup veteran Lee Woon Jae the wrong way from the spot.

But Japan’s lead did not last long as referee Strebre Delovski evened things up with a penalty at the other end. Kim Bo Kyung fell over Atsuto Uchida’s challenge after bursting into a crowded home box, and Lee Dong Gook slotted calmly past Seigo Narazaki for the equalizer.

Minutes later, the Koreans were in front. Lee Seung Yeoul’s shot from distance took a deflection off Nakazawa’s back, and there was nothing Narazaki could do as the ball looped out of his reach and into the net.

Things got worse for the home side when Tulio’s running battle with Kang Min Soo ended in a red card, and Kim Jung Woo blasted a shot against the post as the Koreans came out for the second half with all guns blazing.

It would prove to be Kim’s final contribution, however, as a foul on Shinji Okazaki earned the Korean captain his second booking, but the visitors were not finished yet. Kim Jae Sung put the finishing touches to a razor-sharp passing move, pulling the trigger from the edge of the box to land the visitors’ third in the 70th minute.

“We did our homework on the Japanese team, and they played as we expected them to,” said South Korean manager Huh Jung Moo. “They were dangerous in attack, but I think we dealt with that well and we looked solid in defense.

“We knew they were going to play indirect passes out to their fullbacks, so our plan was to try and cut that off. My players carried out my instructions to the letter.”