Japan win Asian Cup for record 4th time

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Super substitute Tadanari Lee scored a golden volley in the 109th minute to help Japan down Australia 1- 0 to win the 2011 Asian Cup championship at the full-house Khalifa Stadium on Saturday.

The win helped Japan to surpass Saudi Arabia, Iran, both with three titles, to be the only team that had won four continental titles. Japan's playmaker Keisuke Honda was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Asian Cup, and South Korea attacker Koo Ja Cheol became the best scorer with five goals.

Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni made a crucial decision to send on Lee in the 98th minute, and the striker, who had only played 45 minutes before in the 1-1 draw with Jordan, repaid the Italian's trust after 11 minutes with a cool shot following Yuto Nagatomo's pinpoint cross from the left.

The goal is the tounament's 90th from 32 matches, and also the second goal that the Aussies conceded during the continent's football showpiece event.

"I'm really satisfied with the results. We win the tournament with the same style. The players are young, but even the young players can win the matches, they are well-done," said Zaccheroni after the game.

"We met many difficulties in the tournament, we concede goals, we played extra times, sometimes we played with ten players, but every play, even the bench players showed good performance. Lee is the good illustration.

"Australia is also a fantastic team as well."

"Both teams show they deserve to be in the final. Congratulation to Japan on the victory. It's a great achievement and their new generation is just coming up," said Australia's coach Holger Osieck.

"We had our opportunities. It's encouraging to see the way we play, we created opportunities, but couldn't seize them, that's the problem. We should be more clinical in the finishing."

Japan used their 4-2-3-1 formation with Jungo Fujimoto replacing injured Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa, who broke the fifth metatarsal of his right foot in the semifinal thriller against South Korea. The Shimizu S-Pulse midfielder hasn't played a single minute before during the tournament. While Australia coach Holger Osieck maintained their habitual 4-4-2 squad with Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill leading the attacking.

The Socceroos created more chances in a cautious first half through quick attacks and long balls. Cahill, Kewell took good use of their physical advantage in the box and made several threatening shots. Matt Mckay drove a powerful shot over the crossbar at the edge of the area following Cahill's square pass in the 2nd minute, and Kewell missed two headers in the first period.

The Samurai Blue played down the rhythm with patient passes in the midfield. Honda was still the most lively player but the whole Japanese side lacked some cutting-edge power before the box with safe, but not dangerous passes. Honda's 4th minute header inside the box following Yasuhito Endo's pass and Ryoichi Maeda's 37th minute shot provided also by Endo were the only threats before the break.

Australia missed a good opportunity three minutes into the second half, when Luke Wilkshire's right wing cross hit the bar and bounced to the left before Cahill's angled shot was cleared by a Japanese defender on the goalline.

Zaccheroni brought on tall defender Daiki Iwamasa to replace Fujimoto and moved leftback Yuto Nagatomo forward to the midfield, with an aim to add air defense. Nagatomo quickly adapted to the new position, crossing accurately for Shinji Okazaki to headed just a little bit wide of the post in the box on 66 minutes.

"I moved Nagatomo forward to the midfield because he has the speed, and I know he has the passing abilities, he can be attacking and quick. I didn't change the 4-2-3-1 system, if I added a defender and took off a midfielder, the players might think the team would be defensive. I don't want to do that," explained the former AC Milan manager.

The Socceroos hit back six minutes later, but Kewell's one-on- one shot after smartly rounded a defender with a header was saved by keeper Kawashima. Kewell nearly got another clear chance in the 87th minute when he rushed on to fight for a light back pass from Yasuyuki Konno, but a focused Kawashima denied it again.

In the first half of extra time, both teams changed a striker. Australia replaced Kewell by young talent Robbie Kruse, while Japan substitute Tadanari Lee for Ryoichi Maeda. Kruse was quickly into his role with an unstoppable header to be parried by Kawashima after substitute Brett Emerton's cross in the 104th minute, before Honda returned with a well-curved shot from the edge of the box wide of the post.

Finally it's Lee to be the hero. After Carney missed a 120th minute freekick from the edge of the box, the Socceroos have to taste the bitter feeling with veterans Kewell, Sasa Ognenovski and Mark Schwarzer ended their last Asian Cup in pain.

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