INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – Japan’s bid to defend the Asian Games title came to an end in the quarterfinals after losing 1-0 to hosts South Korea on Sunday.
Japan paid the price of youth and inexperience against its archrival as captain Ryota Oshima gave away a late penalty, which his Korean counterpart Jang Hyun-soo converted to send Lee Kwang-jong’s side into Tuesday’s semifinal against Thailand, which beat Jordan 2-0 earlier.
North Korea defeated the United Arab Emirates 1-0 and will meet Iraq in the other semifinal. Iraq beat Saudi Arabia 3-0.
Japan coach Makoto Teguramori picked an under-21 side for these games while South Korea — whose players will be exempt from military service if they win a gold medal — have gone all in with an under-23 team including three overage players.
“I didn’t want him crossing back inside so I went for it,” Kawasaki Frontale midfielder Oshima said. “We knew we would have to persevere but we did want to go on the attack at some point.
“We’ve been saying ourselves that we wanted to repeat as champions. So if you ask us how we feel about this, all I can say is that we failed.”
The match appeared destined for extra time but in the 86th minute Oshima jumped on Lee Jong-ho’s back while challenging for a high ball inside the box, forcing the referee to point to the spot.
Teguramori said Japan should have run down the clock to invite the additional 30 minutes, when high-octane Korea would have slowed down, giving his team a better chance of winning.
“This is really tough to swallow,” Teguramori said. “Considering how much time was left, we probably should have waited a few more minutes and then our time would have come.
“Korea would’ve run out of steam in extra time. But this under-21 team is still learning; we came to this tournament with the team we have because we are thinking about the Rio Olympics.
“You can only figure out how to win games like this by actually playing in them. I think we learned more from today’s game alone than three of our other games put together.”
Before the biggest crowd of these games in all competitions with an attendance of 43,221, the traditional rivals put on an intense display right from the start.
Hard-pressing Korea allowed Japan very little time on the ball, taking full advantage of being older and stronger than the young Samurai Blue.
Yet while the hosts produced the better moments, they struggled to keep their shots down in the face of a resilient Japanese defense and actually had fewer attempts on goal than Japan.
Until Jang’s penalty, Lee Yong-jae’s angled shot in the 28th minute, cleared off the line by defender Takuya Iwanami, was South Korea’s only shot on target.
Teguramori said the sellout crowd at the Munhak World Cup Stadium was definitely a factor. Japan had been playing in front of near-empty stadiums until Sunday.
“Their supporters deserve part of the credit for the win,” Teguramori said. “But our team tends to try to play pretty, neat football but today they were throwing themselves in the line of fire. I was happy to see them getting down and dirty for once.”