Four teams were playing last night for the final berth in the tournament. The first semi-final between Japan and Korea was extremely exciting. These two teams were in the last 16 in the FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa in June 2010. No wonder the Qatar’s Al Gharafa stadium was almost full with fans from the two countries. Red for South Korea and Blue for Japan. A few of those players play in football clubs in UK and Europe so you can gauge their standard.
They were 1-1 at full time and had an extra time play of 30 minutes when at the first 15 minute, Japan was awarded a controversial penalty by the Saudi Arabian referee. The penalty kick was taken by Honda and temporarily saved by Jung, the Korean goalkeeper but the ball went out of his grasps and another Japanese player, Hajime Hosogai rushed in to smash the loose ball into the roof of the net. Ghee, that was thrilling! The Korean players were slow to react because unlike penalty shoot-out where it is only between the goalkeeper and the penalty taker, the awarded penalty allows other players to go for the ball beside the selected penalty taker’s first kick and that was what the quick-thinking Japanese did!
The second half was nail-biting when you see the Koreans giving their all to attack and the Japanese defending like nobody’s business. Almost all the Red and the Blue were in front of the goal mouth when Korea’s Hwang Jae-won then scored a dramatic equaliser seconds before the final whistle to force penalties .. gosh you could see the jubilation of the Korean fans. Both the teams have marks of true champions. Despite leading 2-1, the Japanese still maintained an attacking position and the Koreans never seemed to ever give up.
The game went into penalty shoot-out which showed the first two of Korean spot kicks being saved by Eiji Kawashima, the Japanese goalie and the third one went wide. Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Yasuyuki Konno all successfully converted their penalties to send the Samurai Blue through to the final. So Korea lost on penalty shootout 0-3 ( they really have to practice more on these shootouts seeing that their spirit is not going to be bendable in future games, so they are likely to have to go into this manner of determining who will win the game). But Korea went out of this game with their heads held high as they truly showed that they were a fantastic team.
The second semifinal between Australia (“we bring the thunder from Down Under“) and Uzbekistan showed an almost empty stadium. I hardly saw any Australian fans neither were Uzbek that many. Less than five minutes into the game, Australia scored its first goal. That was really a psychological setback for the Uzbeks. Australian players were able to dispossess the ball from Uzbeks so easily and you could see that there was a lack of leadership in the Uzbek’s team. On top of that the Uzbek goalkeeper was also not performing well. Australia controlled the game and somewhere along the game, I got up from my seat to go and have a late night shower and came back at the end of the game to see Australia trouncing Uzbekistan by 6-0! Yawn…. what a boring game it was. Had another team played against Australia, I do no think that the goal difference would be that embarrassing. Uzbek team looked promising in the quarter final but fell flat in this crucial game.
And so come this Saturday 29 Jan 2011, we will see Japan facing Australia in the final of the Cup and looking at the two teams’ record and profile, the Japanese is the better team but I think Australia has learnt a lot from their early exit at the last World Cup so they could be quite a formidable team to beat. Moreover their easy win against the Uzbeks would give them the extra motivation to win in the final. I think Japanese players would be more physically spent as they went into extra time against the fighting Koreans in the semifinal. But we never know what strong mental power could do when the reputation of your country is at stake here. Judging from the number of Japanese fans already there in Qatar, I would expect the Japanese players to rise to the occasion and be upbeat to emerge the champion of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
I do not know about you but I am rooting for Japan… come on Samurai Blue, STEAL THE THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER! ….. Yes, you can go to the top of Asian football.