JINAN, China – Keiji Tamada struck a dramatic extra-time winner as 10-man Japan came from behind to beat Bahrain 4-3 and move into the final of the Asian Cup on Tuesday.
Bahrain looked to be on its way to the biggest upset of the tournament so far when substitute Duaij Naser gave the tiny Persian Gulf nation a 3-2 lead with five minutes of normal time remaining.
But defender Yuji Nakazawa, arguably Japan’s best player of the tournament, came to the rescue when he met a cross from Alessandro Santos with a superb diving header in the dying seconds.
Two-goal hero Tamada put the holder in wonderland when he picked up a pass from Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and stormed through to fire Japan to victory in an astonishing semifinal at Shandong Stadium.
“With one man down, our players went through such a tough match and did a great job,” Japan coach Zico said.
“I told them we would be able to perform a miracle again, and it did happen and gave us a ticket to the final,” the Brazilian said, referring to Japan’s come-from-behind penalty shootout win against Jordan in the quarterfinals.
Japan, which had Yasuhito Endo sent off late in the first half of normal time, will face the winner of Tuesday’s other semifinal between hosts China and three-time Asian champion Iran in the final Saturday.
Chinese fans continued to boo the Japanese national anthem and drowned out chants from a small band of traveling Japan fans flanked by scores of security guards in a stand behind the goal.
With the crowd firmly behind it, Bahrain capitalized on some poor defending to go in front as A’ala Hubail picked up a ball from Talal Yusuf and beat Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi at his near post after six minutes.
Things got worse for Japan when Endo was given a straight red for an apparent shove in the face on Mohammed Salmeen in the 40th minute.
But substitute Koji Nakata brought Japan back into the game with a header moments after the restart and then turned provider for Tamada to rifle home his first of the night.
Bahrain was not done, though, and Hubail stole in to clip past Japan goalkeeper Kawaguchi for his fifth goal of the tournament and Naser struck to put his side within five minutes of the final.
Bahrain also finished the match with 10 men after Sayed Mahmood Jalal was given a straight red in extra time. Hubail might have snatched a late equalizer in extra time but it was not to be.