Japan capture fourth Asian title with 1-0 win over Australia

DOHA – Japan were crowned champions of Asian football on Saturday after edging Australia 1-0 in the final of the AFC Asian Cup at Khalifa Stadium in Doha.
Substitute forward Tadanari Lee of Sanfrecce Hiroshima struck the winner in the 109th minute.
It was Japan’s fourth Asian Cup title and their first since 2004, marking a dramatic tournament debut for Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over as coach in September.

The game was a rematch of the two teams’ 2007 quarterfinal clash, which Japan won on penalties.
Both teams started cautiously, although Australia had an early chance when the unmarked Matt McKay hit wide from outside the box.

Japan’s first chance came in the fourth minute when Keisuke Honda connected with a fine pass from Yasuhito Endo in the box, but Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer dealt with the attempt.
With the Australians playing long balls to their striking duo of Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell, the Japanese backline were kept busy.

Australia, making their first ever final appearance in a major tournament, threatened the Japan goal in the 19th minute. Cahill headed a David Carney corner forward and Kewell connected with a header, but goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and Endo cleared the danger. In the 21st minute, Kewell had another chance but headed over.
In the 33rd minute, Australia came close again from combination work by Cahill and Kewell up front, but Kewell’s volley failed to hit the target.

Japan, with Jungo Fujimoto deputizing for the injured Shinji Kagawa in midfield, created chances through Yuto Nagatomo and Honda. On the half-hour mark, Shinji Okazaki took a pass from Honda and cut inside the box, but his attempt was blocked by an Australian defender.
The Boys in Blue came close again in the 37th minute when Ryoichi Maeda’s shot curled over the bar after being set up by Endo, who might have gone for goal himself.

After a scoreless first half, Holger Osieck’s side came out more aggressively after the break and Cahill kept Japan’s defenders busy.
Four minutes into the half, a cross from the right hit the bar. Cahill tried to force the ball over the line, but Maya Yoshida managed to clear the ball away with the Aussies appealing for a goal.

Zaccheroni brought on Daiki Iwamasa for Fujimoto in the 56th minute, shifting his full-backs a little higher in a 3-4-3 formation, which brought greater mobility to his team.
Maeda had a chance in the 63rd minute but slipped as he struck his shot, while Stuttgart-bound Okazaki came close with a low header three minutes later.
In the 72nd minute, Kewell again broke free, but Kawashima came up with a huge save with his right foot. Japan’s goalkeeper smothered a further chance five minutes later and then denied Kewell again in the 87th minute.
Zaccheroni brought on forward Tadanari Lee for Maeda in the 98th minute, while former Urawa Reds boss Osieck replaced Kewell with Robbie Kruse.
The young Australian striker forced Kawashima into another brilliant save with a header from an Emerton cross, while Honda saw a good-looking shot curl wide at the other end.

The Samurai Blue finally broke the deadlock in the 109th minute. Nagatomo turned his marker inside out on the left touchline and sent in a superb cross toward the unmarked Lee, who volleyed in the winning goal with his left foot from 15 meters.
Schwarzer then saved an Endo free-kick before the Aussies had one final chance with a free-kick of their own in the final minute, but Japan held on for their fourth Asian crown.