JAKARTA – Japan made it to the Asian Games men’s soccer final for the first time since winning in 2010 with a 1-0 semifinal victory over United Arab Emirates on Wednesday night.
In Sunday’s final, Japan will play South Korea, after the defending champion beat Vietnam 3-1 in the earlier semifinal at Pakan Sari Stadium. Japan is fielding an Under-21 team that is expected to form the core of the Tokyo 2020 U-23 Olympic side, while a gold for South Korea would give its players a prized exemption from the country’s mandatory military service.
“The players’ concentration never wavered despite it being such a tough game and that brought us victory,” said Olympic and senior national team coach Hajime Moriyasu. “We can win a gold medal against South Korea if we take them head-on with all our strength.”
With both Japan and UAE playing aggressively but failing to capitalize on their opportunities, a sparkling play by midfielder Kota Watanabe set up forward Ayase Ueda in the 78th minute for the game’s only goal.
Having gained possession of the ball in its own penalty area, the UAE attempted to bring it back up field, but Watanabe came out of nowhere, sliding to intercept the pass, maintained control as he regained his feet and found Ueda in space in front of the UAE goal with a perfect through pass.
With only the ‘keeper to beat, Ueda, a 64th-minute substitute, was on target, his bouncing shot striking the crossbar and going in.
“At least 80 percent of the credit for that goal goes to the pass (from Watanabe), the only work I did was at the very end,” Ueda said.
Earlier at the same venue, a Lee Seung-woo brace powered South Korea into the final. Hwang Ui-jo, who plays for Gamba Osaka in the J. League, also scored to raise his total to a tournament-best nine goals.
South Korea will be looking for its third gold medal in men’s soccer. Its previous golds both came at home, in 1986 in Seoul and four years ago in Incheon.
Japan will be playing in its third Asian Games final, having lost to Iran in 2002 and beaten the UAE in 2010.