YOKOHAMA — South Korea won the East Asian Football Championship on goals scored after a tame 0-0 draw with Japan at International Stadium Yokohama on Wed-nesday night.
The last round-robin game of the tournament was billed as a final with both teams level on points at the top of the group, although Japan needed a win as South Korea had a scored more goals in the tournament.
Japan’s task was made all the more difficult as early as the 17th minute, when young striker Yoshito Okubo was sent off for a second yellow card after diving in the box.
While his first yellow card was a bit harsh, Okubo certainly showed his youthful inexperience in collecting the second which put his team on the back foot for the rest of the match.
Although Japan was a man short, South Korea failed to capitalize, creating only one significant chance in the first half when Shimizu S-Pulse striker Ahn Jung Hwan shaved a centimeter of paint off the left post with a stunning volley that had lunging Japan ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki well beaten.
The second half was as entertaining as the first half was boring. This owed in part to the bold changes that Japan coach Zico made at the interval, bringing on attacking midfielder Toshiya Fujita and striker Masashi Motoyama for defender Yuji Nakazawa and midfielder Takashi Fukunishi.
In doing so, Zico reverted to a four-at-the-back formation as opposed to his starting 3-5-2, allowing space to open up in midfield. Needing a win, this was his only option — hoping for his defense to hold strong and to catch South Korea with a quick break.
“Even after going a man down I thought we managed to keep a good balance and tried to attack as much as we could in the second half,” said Zico.
“We knew a draw would not be good enough but we couldn’t find the crucial goal despite creating a lot of chances,” ad-ded the Brazilian.
Despite some bizarre officiating that at times bordered on guesswork, the game opened up as a spectacle, with a number of chances being created at either end.
In the 58th minute Mitsuo Ogasawara bent a free-kick around the Korean wall, forcing a good save from ‘keeper Lee Woon Jae.
Korea responded with a thunderbolt Ahn drive from outside the box which punctuated a strong spell by the visitors.
With substitute Chung Kyung Ho impressing down the left flank, turning his marker Nobuhisa Yamada on a number of occasions, Choi Jin Cheul blazed a header just over the bar when unmarked on the penalty spot from a teasing cross by Chung.
Motoyama, who had managed to find some promising positions only to be outnumbered by red shirts, eventually found some space but fired wide, this just seconds after Yoshito Kubo had headed a corner kick against the post.
An extraordinarily long extra time, that was supposed to last only three minutes, saw a desperate flurry of chances at both ends that ultimately came to nothing and Korea winning the tournament.
Both sides missed most of their foreign-based stars, Japan in particular, and it at times showed in the quality of soccer played.
For Japan, Alessandro Santos was his usual dangerous self and Ogasawara kept things moving in midfield with a mature performance.
Although Japan played most of the match with 10 men, it showed some character in holding Korea goalless and even creating chances itself.
In the end, the draw proved to be a fair reflection of the match.
YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Two goals in a minute from Zhao Xuri and Liu Jindong put China on the way to a comfortable 3-1 victory over Hong Kong on the final day of the East Asian Football Championship on Wednesday.
Yang Chen also scored in the victory for China.
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