Japan have won the 2011 Asian Cup with an extra-time 1-0 win over Australia in Doha.
The Blue Samurai notched up an unprecedented fourth title thanks to a 109th minute Tadanari Lee volley, giving manager Alberto Zaccheroni his first piece of silverware in less than six months in the job.
Australia could only have themselves to blame as they missed a host of chances throughout proceedings but Japan held firm in defence, led by goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, and eventually ran out winners to qualify themselves for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.
For the Socceroos, it was certainly a missed opportunity to really stamp their name on the game in Asia but they were simply not good enough in front of goal and were left to rue their inefficiency.
2011 Asian Cup Final
Japan: 1 (Tadanari Lee 109’)
Venue: Khalifa International Stadium, Doha
Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (UZB)
Yellow cards: AUS - Carl Valeri 16’, Brett Holman 39’, Matt McKay 112’
JPN - nil
Australia started brightly with two half-chances in the opening two minutes coming from Harry Kewell and Matt McKay before the Blue Samurai started to provide their own opportunities down the other end of the pitch.
The 16th minute almost produced something special for the Socceroos when Brett Holman advanced down the right flank toward the byline but his cut-back pass was cleared away by the Japanese defence despite the best efforts of Tim Cahill.
Three minutes later, Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima fumbled a Cahill header which was deflected on by Harry Kewell in what was a nervous moment for Alberto Zaccheroni’s men as the Australians continued to provide a genuine threat in the air.
Just before the half-hour mark, Kewell had a good chance to put the Socceroos ahead when he headed goalward but he was unable to hit the target when he should have done much better. Four minutes later, the Galatasaray man received a perfect headed ball from Cahill but could only lash into the side netting with his right foot as the chances were proving to be constant for Holger Osieck’s men.
Japan were finding it increasingly difficult to penetrate the Socceroos’ penalty box but Keisuke Honda managed to pierce the defence with a neat ball in the 37th minute for Daisuke Matsui, but for some reason instead of shooting on goal, he laid it off for Ryoichi Maeda who was forced to try his luck but the shot went well wide.
The second half begun in a blaze of glory with some end-to-end football being produced by both sides and the opening goal was centimeters away in the 49th minute when Luke Wilkshire’s dink into the area floated onto the crossbar and deflected to Cahill but the Everton star couldn’t knock it from the goal-line as the Blue Samurai defenders scrambled the ball to safety.
Australia were well on top throughout the contest although Japan looked menacing right on the hour-mark when Shinji Okazaki and Maeda got in each other’s way in what was a huge let-off for the Australians.
The tempo began to quicken, mainly down Japan’s end, and they came agonisingly close in the 66th minute when Okazaki’s diving header from a Yuto Nagatomo cross from the left whizzed past Mark Schwarzer’s left upright.
In the 72nd minute, Kewell was in for another superb chance when he headed in front of him from a long ball before advancing into the area for a one-on-one with Kawashima but again the Japan custodian thwarted the ex-Leeds United and Liverpool star, this time with an outstretched boot.
The contest opened up as the players started to tire and the Socceroos’ game plan was beginning to become predictable with their long balls toward Cahill being picked off by the Japanese defenders and keeper Kawashima alike.
David Carney had a great chance in the 89th minute when he lashed at goal from inside the area but the regular 90 minutes ended without a goal as extra-time ensued.
Neither side were extremely efficient in the first part of added time as bodies grew weary although Australia could have at least hit the target when Kewell played a lovely little touch into the path of Brett Emerton but the Blackburn Rovers man put his attempt wide.
Holger Osieck brought on Robbie Kruse for Kewell in the 103rd minute and the Melbourne Victory striker almost had an immediate impact when he headed goalward but Kawashima gloved the effort onto the crossbar before Honda lashed wide of the mark down the other end straight away.
McKay struck inches over the crossbar in the 105th minute, just prior to the second stanza of extra-time, before Japan broke the deadlock in the 109th minute.
GOAL Substitute Tadanari Lee produced a stellar finish with an unchallenged left-footed volley that whistled past Schwarzer after Nagatomo supplied the delivery from the left flank.
It proved to be the difference as Australia could not fashion a late equaliser, leaving Japan to take out the 2011 Asian Cup with the narrowest of victories.
Mark Schwarzer (gk), Luke Wilkshire, Lucas Neill, Sasa Ognenovski, David Carney, Brett Holman (Emerton 65’), Carl Valeri, Mile Jedinak, Matt McKay, Tim Cahill (Kilkenny 110’), Harry Kewell (Kruse 103’)
Subs - Brett Emerton (65’), Robbie Kruse (103’), Neil Kilkenny (110’)
Eiji Kawashima (gk), Yasuyuki Konno, Atsuta Uchida (Inoha 120’), Maya Yoshida, Yuto Nagatomo, Yasuhito Endo, Makoto Hasebe, Jungo Fujimoto (Iwasama 56’), Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki, Ryoichi Maeda (Lee 99’)