DOHA – Tadanari Lee struck a volley for the ages as Japan lifted a record fourth Asian Cup with a 1-0 extra time victory over Australia in the final on Saturday night.
Lee, who only made his international debut in Japan’s opener against Jordan, came on in the 99th minute for Ryoichi Maeda before finding the net 10 minutes later in spectacular fashion.
Lee spun in the box to connect with Yuto Nagatomo’s leftwing cross and buried his left-foot shot in the top corner, leaving Australia keeper Mark Schwarzer motionless.
The goal was reminiscent of Zinedine Zidane’s legendary volley for Real Madrid in the 2002 European Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen.
“This is just the best,” said Lee. “I have had to wait for playing time but my patience has paid off. I was confident I would be able to seize my chance if it came my way. I’m delighted.”
Japan’s win qualified Alberto Zaccheroni’s side for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.
“It was a great win from a great team,” said Zaccheroni. “It was a collective effort against a very strong Australia side. All of the players were tired but the team effort and team spirit pulled us through.
“I knew he (Lee) would do a job for us. We lost aerial power in taking off Maeda but I believed he would deliver. The whole of Japan can be proud of having a team like this.”
Zaccheroni gave the starting nod to Jungo Fujimoto in place of Shinji Kagawa, who started the previous five games in attacking midfield but parted with the team after breaking his metatarsal in the semifinal win over South Korea.
Fujimoto was less than impressive in his first start for Japan on the right wing, Zaccheroni shifting Shinji Okazaki to the left where Kagawa had played.
The first half proceeded at a pedestrian pace, the two teams combining for a meager three shots on target, none of them proving to be a threat.
Australia thought it had gone ahead three minutes into the second half through Tim Cahill, but Maya Yoshida cleared off the line with his chest to keep the score at 0-0.
The Fujimoto experiment came to an end before the hour, the new Nagoya Grampus man taking a seat on the bench in the 56th minute for Daiki Iwamasa. Zaccheroni daringly shuffled the team, moving Okazaki back to the right where he has been potent throughout the tournament.
The manager pushed up Nagatomo to the left side of midfield, and moved Yasuyuki Konno over to left back from the center of defense where Iwamasa was plugged in.
The game began showing signs of life six minutes past the hour, when Okazaki headed centimeters wide of the far post from Nagatomo’s cross.
Harry Kewell slipped past Iwamasa for a one-on-one with Eiji Kawashima in the 72nd minute, but the Japanese keeper did well to deny the Galatasaray striker his fourth strike of the competition.
Kawashima, who stopped two penalties in the shootout against South Korea, continued his heroics in extra time, tipping substitute Robbie Kruse’s header onto the bar for another super save before Lee broke the deadlock with arguably the best goal of the tournament.
MVP hails Endo
DOHA (Kyodo) If it were up to Keisuke Honda, Gamba Osaka’s Yasuhito Endo would be the most valuable player of the 2011 Asian Cup. Unfortunately for Honda, he’ll have to settle on being the MVP himself instead of Endo.
“To have someone on the team who’s won it before like (Endo) makes a huge difference,” Honda said on Saturday, after being named the best player of the tournament by the Asian Football Confederation’s technical study group.
Endo had appeared in the last two Asian Cups, winning it in 2004 in China. He started all six matches for Japan in Qatar in defensive midfield.
“If we didn’t have anyone with championship experience, I bet we would have lost by a hair somewhere along the way,” Honda said. “A lot of players stepped up for us at this tournament, but I don’t think anyone could have replaced Endo.”