SEOUL - Yoichiro Kakitani completed a brace with a dramatic winner as Japan won its first East Asian Cup title by beating host South Korea 2-1 in Sunday’s tournament finale.
The Cerezo Osaka striker broke the deadlock with his second goal in as many games in the 25th minute and snatched victory in the dying embers after Yun Il-lok had leveled for the South Koreans.
Japan finished the tournament with seven points, two ahead of China, which beat Australia 4-3 earlier in the day. The result eased some pain after the Japanese women’s national team was beaten 2-1 by South Korea on Saturday and denied a third consecutive title in the process.
“Obviously the result was very important for us,” said Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni. “The players gave every last drop of energy they had, especially in the second half. They were fantastic.”
Zaccheroni fielded the same starting lineup that drew 3-3 with China in their opening game last Sunday, when Kakitani and Masato Kudo both scored on their debuts.
South Korea, meanwhile, came into the match looking for its first goal of the tournament having drawn 0-0 with Australia and China.
And in a typically full-blooded encounter between these bitter Asian rivals, Kim Dong-sub almost provided it when he outmuscled Yuzo Kurihara and forced Shusaku Nishikawa to save with his right leg from a tight angle in the eighth minute.
But Kakitani silenced a fiercely partisan crowd and opened the scoring, latching onto a long ball from Toshihiro Aoyama and beating the offside trap to steer past Jung Sung-ryong for his second goal of the tournament.
Japan’s lead was to last only eight minutes though as South Korea hit back, Yun taking a return pass from Lee Seung-gi and giving Nishikawa no chance with a blistering strike from the just outside the area.
Lee had a great chance to make it 2-1, only for his first touch to let him down in the 66th minute as the South Koreans enjoyed a long spell of pressure.
But Kakitani sent the entire Japan bench sprinting off the bench in delight when he swept in the decider in the 91st minute after Jung could only parry a shot from Genki Haraguchi.
“Winning the title was the only thing on our minds and we can go back to Japan on a high now,” said Kakitani.
The last time the two countries had met at senior international level was in August 2011. They did not meet for a friendly last year, following South Korea’s 2-0 win over Japan for the bronze medal at the London Olympics.
That victory was mired in controversy after South Korean player Park Jong-woo held up a sign that read, “Dokdo Is Our Territory,” in a post-match celebration.
The message referred to South Korea’s easternmost islets to which Japan has also laid claims. Dokdo has long been a source of diplomatic tension between the countries and Park was suspended by FIFA for two games for making a political statement and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) withheld his bronze medal until February this year.
The South Koreans could be in trouble with FIFA again after a huge banner was put up by supporters, apparently referring to Japan’s colonial rule over the country which read: “There is no future for a nation that forgets history.”