Okada defiant despite latest setback

TOKYO - Japan coach Takeshi Okada has won a vote of confidence from the national football association despite protests from angry fans after his side's East Asian championship flop.

The Japan Football Association (JFA) called an emergency meeting on Monday following the 3-1 defeat by fierce rivals South Korea in Tokyo the previous evening.

Okada had been criticised by JFA president Motoaki Inukai but got a vote of confidence from the meeting.

"I don't think I lack ability as a coach," Okada told Japanese reporters after the meeting. "I'm not going to change my plans out of fear of getting fired."

Sunday's loss in the final game of the East Asian championship undermined Okada's declaration of a semi-final target at this year's World Cup in South Africa.

"I deeply apologise we were not able to win the title at home," the 53-year-old said after South Korea's victory allowed China to claim a surprise tournament triumph.

"I accept the criticism but I will not be changing my objectives for the World Cup. I take full responsibility for the results."

Banners calling for Okada's dismissal were visible among a crowd of 43,000 in Tokyo on Sunday.

"I told the coach the national team must not let down the Japanese people like that," said Inukai. "These performances will be unacceptable at the World Cup."

CHINA SURPRISE

China's 2-0 win over Hong Kong earlier on Sunday meant Japan needed to beat South Korea by three goals to win their first East Asian title outright.

However, the hosts were completely outplayed once Lee Dong-gook equalised from the spot in the 33rd minute following an earlier penalty from Yasuhito Endo.

The contrast in unity among the two sides was highlighted following Lee Seung-yeoul's superb long-range blast six minutes later.

In a show of support for coach Huh Jung-moo, the Korean players celebrated by racing to the bench and kneeling to perform a traditional bow to mark New Year's Day in Korea.

Over on the Japanese bench the mood was sombre, with striker Keiji Tamada refusing to shake Okada's hand on being substituted before petulantly throwing his gloves to the floor.

Midfielder Kim Jae-sung curled in a superb third goal for the Koreans in the 70th minute after both teams had been reduced to 10 men.

China coach Gao Hongbo praised his side after they finished on seven points from three games to South Korea's six and Japan's four. Hong Kong lost all three matches.

"This title shows the potential of Chinese football," said Gao, whose side again failed to qualify for the World Cup. "With hard work we can catch up with South Korea and Japan."


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