Korea blanks Japan to earn bronze

Kyodo

Japan’s medal drought in men’s soccer at the Olympics will now reach 48 years after losing to South Korea 2-0 in the third-place match of London 2012 on Friday.

In Japan’s first appearance in the bronze-medal match since 1968, Arsenal striker Park Chu Young scored late in the first half before Augsburg’s Koo Ja Cheol added to the tally in the second half.

The final between Brazil and Mexico is on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

Coach Takashi Sekizuka’s side had defied the odds and expectations to reach the last four without conceding a single goal.

Japan, however, failed to step up when it mattered most in its last two games against Mexico in the semifinals and Korea on Friday.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Sekizuka said. “We did what we had to do to get this far into the tournament but we came up short. I would have liked to see the boys go home with a medal but it didn’t work out that way.”

Korea coach and former international Hong Myung Bo, who spent part of his career in Japan with Kashiwa Reysol and Bellmare Hiratsuka, had his opponents all figured out.

“I played a long time in Japan and we have several players who are playing in the J. League right now as well,” Hong said. “One of the key strategies tonight was to stop Japan from playing their own game with their own advantages.

“And I think it was quite successful for us. We tried to create width and play a little deeper than normal to stop the Japanese players from playing their own game.”

Added Korea’s Celtic midfielder Ki Sung Yueng, “Physically, we are very tired because we went to extra time in the quarterfinals and we were also tired in the semifinal.

“Japan had more possession than us but our defense was very strong. Japan had some chances but not many on target.”

The game at Millennium Stadium proved to be as intense as expected as the two Asian rivals clashed for the first time since August last year.

Japan coasted to a 3-0 victory in Sapporo then, but Korea — whose players had exemption from military service at stake — were more than fired up on Friday, picking up three yellow cards in the first half alone with some hard challenges.

It was ironic the two goals Japan conceded on this night both came at the expense of arguably its best player of the tournament, captain and central defender Maya Yoshida.