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Japan, Australia claw into final

South Korea clipped 3-0  on penalties


DOHA (AP) ― Japan beat its fierce rival South Korea in a penalty shootout at the Asian Cup while Australia routed 10-man Uzbekistan 6-0, setting up a dream final between the region’s top two teams.

The two games late Tuesday couldn’t have been more different. In a back-and-forth encounter, Japan came from a goal down to take the lead before South Korea equalized in the final seconds of extra time. With the score locked at 2-2, Japan won 3-0 on penalties.

Australia forward Harry Kewell scored inside five minutes, helping his team to a 3-0 lead by the time Uzbekistan went down to 10 men in the 65th minute. Australia scored three more in the most lopsided semifinal in the tournament’s history, earning its first place in the final of Asia’s premiere competition and silencing critics who felt this team coming in was too old and too slow.

“We had brilliant game today. The players put on great show, a great performance,” Australian Coach Holger Osieck said. “What they did today is fantastic. It is the right present for the Australian public.”

South Korea and Uzbekistan play for third place Friday while the final takes place Saturday in Doha, Qatar.
Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima saves the penalty shot from Korea’s Koo Ja-cheol. (AP-Yonhap News)
Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima saves the penalty shot from Korea’s Koo Ja-cheol. (AP-Yonhap News)

Seeking its third title, South Korea opened the scoring against Japan after captain Park Ji-sung, playing in his 100th international match, earned a penalty in the 23rd minute which Ki Sung-yueng converted. The Blue Samurai leveled in the 36th, when Keisuke Honda sent a perfect through ball to Yuto Nagatomo on the left flank and he crossed low for striker Ryoichi Maeda.

Three-time champions Japan took the lead in the 98th, when Hwang Jae-won brought down Shinji Okazaki at the edge of the penalty box, and a controversial penalty was awarded. Keisuke Honda missed the spot-kick but substitute midfielder Hajime Hosogai followed through to drive the ball into the roof of the net.

“It was quite strange when the referee pointed outside the penalty area and the linesman pointed inside,” South Korea coach Cho Kwang-rae said. “It’s part of the game and I respect the decision of the referee.”

Just as Japan looked to have won it, Hwang made up for his earlier mistake by scoring a late equalizer in the dying seconds of extra time that sent the match to penalties. The Korean’s seemed to have the upper hand but couldn’t find the net, missing one penalty shot and having two others stopped by goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.

“After we scored, I really thought we would win this game,” Ki said. “We were just unlucky in the penalty kicks. That is just football.”

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni conceded it was a hard-fought game in which the South Koreans had his team on the backfoot for much of the second half.

“It was a very tough, very tight game,” he said.

“We were better in the first half, especially on the flanks, and had three big chances ― but we conceded early. South Korea outran us in the second half. They are a very good team and winning against a very good team makes it even sweeter.”

South Korea coach Cho praised his players for managing to tie the match in the end but blamed their poor penalty shooting on fatigue after playing their second, extra time match in a row.

“I do appreciate all the hard work of my players today,” Cho said. “They never gave up and controlled the game, pressurized and in last minute scored a second goal to level the match. We showed how strong we are, our fighting spirit and a passion to play good football.”

Uzbekistan came into its first semifinal talking confidently about facing a team it insisted was not Brazil. But once it took the pitch, its defense fell apart and Australia ― which had seven goals all tournament ― scored at will.

After Kewell’s goal, the Uzbeks went 2-0 down in the 34th minute when Tim Cahill headed down a free kick. Sasa Ognenovski had time to take a touch before ramming the ball home for his first international goal.

“I think it stunned them a little bit,” Captain Lucas Neill said of the earlier goals. “You get that first jab in a fight it kind of knocks them off their feet. But they come in, they come back at us, they were creating chances. But as soon as you get the second, it’s very hard you know, down two-nil going into halftime.”

David Carney made it 3-0 in the 65th after being played in by Matt McKay, and Uzbekistan’s chances of victory ended when Ulugbek Bakaev was sent off two minutes later for his second booking.

Substitute Brett Emerton scored the fourth in the 74th before Carl Valeri and Robbie Kruse ― courtesy of a goalkeeper error ― wrapped up the scoring with two goals in two minutes.

“What a game, I really enjoyed it,” said the 28-year-old McKay, who received the man-of-the-match award. “It’s unbelievable to be playing in the final. It’s a great opportunity for us to win silverware. I’m loving every minute of it.”

The Uzbek Coach Vadim Abramov apologized to Uzbek fans and appeared stunned by his team’s poor play.

“The way we played today, I cannot describe it,” he said.

“We were prepared but we played badly, this is a big problem, we made too many mistakes,” he said. “Up until now, I believed that we could beat Australia and win the tournament. I don’t know what happened. After the second goal, we wanted to attack but we made too many mistake at the back.”
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