Saturday July 21, 2007
Asian Cup: Japan edges Australia on penalties, advances to semifinals
HANOI, Vietnam (AP): Yuji Nakazawa calmly slotted the last penalty as defending champion Japan edged Australia in a shootout Saturday to advance to the Asian Cup semifinals.
The Japanese won the shootout 4-3 after the score was locked 1-1 at the end of 30 minutes of extra time in the quarterfinal, gaining a measure of revenge for a World Cup defeat last year.
Australia got the better of Japan at the World Cup, scoring three late goals in a 3-1 group stage win that stunned the top Asian team and helped the Socceroos into the second round.
But the Japanese were superior this time, creating most of the opportunities and dominating possession _ particularly after Australia was reduced to 10 minute about 15 minutes from regulation time.
Australia was rated among the favorites coming into its maiden Asian Cup tournament, but struggled in the preliminaries and placed second to Iraq in Group A with a win, a loss and a draw.
The Japanese, by contrast, were dominant in Group B and joined fellow three-time winners Iran and Saudi Arabia as the best-performed teams of the group stage, with seven points.
Japan had the best scoring chances during the first half, but failed to convert them into goals.
Almost against the run of play, Australian striker John Aloisi opened the scoring when he connected with a wobbly Harry Kewell corner at the far post in the 69th minute.
The Australian celebrations were short-lived, though, with a defensive error giving Naohiro Takahara possession in front and the Japanese striker firing a powerful shot to beat Mark Schwarzer.
Japan had one man advantage after Australia's midfielder Vince Grella was red carded for elbowing Takahara in an aerial challenge.
With only 10 men _ and both strikers Mark Viduka and Aloisi on the bench _ coach Graham Arnold made a substitution in the 82nd minute to strengthen his defense, hoping to stop Japan's sharp attacks in search for a lead.
Japan put in an extra forward to bolster its attack, but the scores remained level at regulation time and after two 15-minute periods of extra time.
Two of Australia's World Cup stars failed in the shootout, with Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill unable to beat Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi as Japan took a 2-0 lead.
After Tim Cahill got Australia on the board, Takmura had the chance to seal it for Japan with the shootout poised at 3-2. His miss gave Australia another chance, and at 3-3, Nakazawa went to the spot to take Japan's fifth chance.
He fired it to Schwarzer's left, sparking wild celebrations.
Japan, aiming for a third consecutive title, next faces the winner of the Iraq vs. Vietnam quarterfinal.