SAITAMA – Brazilian-born winger Alessandro Santos converted a first-half penalty as Japan defeated Hong Kong 1-0 on Sunday to make it two wins out of two at the East Asian Football Championship.
Despite dominating the match at Saitama Stadium from start to finish, Santos’ 37th-minute winner was all Japan had to show for its efforts and now needs to win a showdown with South Korea to claim the title of the inaugural competition in Yokohama on Wednesday.
Japan has six points after beating China 2-0 in its opener on Thursday and is level with South Korea, which beat China 1-0 earlier in the day, despite playing the final 30 minutes with 10 men. South Korea tops the table having scored more goals than Japan.
“Things would be a bit easier for us (on Sunday) if we had taken more of our chances tonight,” said Japan coach Zico.
Zico made just one change to the side that started in the win over China, FC Tokyo defender Teruyuki Moniwa earning his second full international cap at the expense of Yuji Nakazawa.
Japan wasted no time in tearing into its unfancied opponent and Yoshito Okubo was denied the first goal of his international career when Hong Kong goalkeeper Fan Chun Yip did well to block the Cerezo Osaka striker’s close-range effort in the third minute.
Japan’s pressure finally paid off in the 37th minute. Santos burst into the box after a one-two with Mitsuo Ogasawara, but was tripped by Fan and Thai referee Piromya Chalach had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The Shimizu S-Pulse star dusted himself off to take the kick and calmly dispatched the ball into the left-hand corner of the net.
It was much the same story after the interval. Japan twice hit the woodwork but lacked the necessary quality in the final third of the pitch.
In the day’s first game, South Korea captain Yoo Sang Chul scored what proved to be the winner with a close-range header in first-half stoppage time.
South Korea was reduced to 10 men when Lee Eul Yong was handed the first red card of the tournament.
The 28-year-old lashed out at striker Li Yi and sparked a center-circle brawl between both sets of players before being given his marching orders.
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