South Korea 1-2 Japan
Olympic Stadium, Seoul – Attendance – 47, 258
Yoichiro Kakitani scored twice on Sunday to defeat hosts South Korea and claim the East Asian Cup for Japan. Alberto Zaccheroni fielded the same team which drew the opening match with China and despite being under pressure for long periods of a high intensity contest, his men emerged worthy victors, displaying greater resilience in defence while maintaining a consistent threat on the counter.
Japan, who had previously won only four times away to South Korea in twenty one attempts, took the lead against the run of play with the simplest of goals in the 25th minute. Kakitani filled the vaacum left by the home side’s wandering centre backs and latched on to Aoyama’s long ball down the middle, finishing with trademark composure. The lead lasted only a few minutes however, as Yun Il-Lok curled a superb effort beyond Nishikawa to level matters.
South Korea began to dominate thereafter, exerting consistent pressure on the Japanese defence who remained resolute to go in 1-1 at the break. The second period saw Japan grow in confidence, retaining possession much better than in the first half although South Korea continued to press forward, making for an entertaining game. At 1-1, Japan were tied at the top of the group with China on every single measure and so the tournament victors looked increasingly likely to be decided by the respective disciplinary records, of which Japan’s was only marginally better.
However, Kakitani removed any element of doubt and won the cup in a far more satisfactory manner in injury time, slotting home with his left foot after Genki Haraguchi’s shot had been parried. Haraguchi’s change of pace on the counter attack had opened up the home defence and he was unlucky not to score himself. As it was, the Cerezo Osaka hitman Kakitani, linked heavily with a move to Dortmund, completed the move to finish as the tournaments top scorer and earn a morale boosting win for Samurai Blue.
Zaccheroni will reflect on the competition as a worthwhile exercise which enabled him to assess a clutch of young domestic talent. Whether many make the plane to Brazil next summer is the key question, though Kakitani, Saito and Haraguchi will feel they have advanced their case. Others will view the tournament as a missed opportunity to impress as defensive lapses highlighted some individual shortcomings.
Overall, securing victory in a regional tournament with eight goals in three games and wins over Australia and South Korea will rightly be regarded as highly satisfactory. The fact that a number of emerging players have experienced international tournament football is an added bonus.
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