Takuma Asano’s brace ensured Japan will travel to the Olympic Games as Asian champions as he inspired his team to a come-from-behind 3-2 win over South Korea in Saturday's AFC U23 Championship final.
The Sanfrecce Hiroshima super sub struck in the 67th and 81st minutes – either side of a bullet header from Shinya Yajima – to cancel out Kwon Chang-hoon’s opener and a second for the Koreans from Jin Seon-guk, which looked to have wrapped up the win for Shin Tae-yong’s team.
“It was a really dramatic game and it’s great we won the Asian title,” said Japan coach Makoto Teguramori. “I told the players today that we should show everyone our bravery and move the Japanese fans. I’m really glad that we have achieved this objective.”
The introduction of Asano on the hour mark for Ryota Oshima swung a game previously dominated by the Koreans in Japan’s favour as the 21-year-old’s pace and direct running caused panic in the Korean rearguard.
Kwon had put Korea in front in the 27th minute with a deflected effort from close range before Jin scored after controlling the ball with his back to goal just two minutes into the second half.
Shin’s side then squandered a number of opportunities to add a killer third and, with Asano pressuring the Korean defence, Japan responded in dramatic fashion, with the 21-year-old scoring before Yajima levelled just a minute later, while the winner came nine minutes from time.
“It’s true the substitutions from the Japanese changed the game and in that context I think I should compliment the Japan head coach,” said Shin. “He created the tactics that changed the game.
“But I don't think there was a problem with our team and I think our team has a lot of potential and can improve more and be more flexible, so I want to maintain my tactics when we go onto the world stage.”
The win seals a successful three weeks for Japan at the continental competition, where they won all of their group games against North Korea, Thailand and Saudi Arabia before seeing off Iran in the quarter-finals and defeating Iraq in the last four.
That victory over the Iraqis ensured Teguramori’s side booked a place at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where they will be joined by the Koreans and Iraq, who claimed Asia’s final ticket with a win over Qatar in the third place play-off.
“In order to participate at the Olympic games, we need to improve every aspect of our team,” said the Japan coach. “I’m aware of this point both offensively and in defence, we have to improve. There’s more to do to improve this team.
“Throughout this tournament I have been living with the players and I could feel they were willing to improve and I’m aware that they have the ability to improve. This is why we were able to win today.”
Photos: Asian Football Confederation