Japan and South Korea will contest the final of the AFC U23 Championship on Saturday after both picked up semi-final wins over Iraq and Qatar respectively.
The pair's victories also secured them both berths at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Japan had a 93rd minute winner from Riki Harakawa to thank for a 2-1 win over the Iraqis while the Koreans won in similar circumstances, with Kwon Chang-hoon and Moon Chang-jin scoring in the final six minutes to give Shin Tae-yong’s side a 3-1 over tournament hosts Qatar.
The two nations met in the bronze medal match in London in 2012 – a game won by the Koreans – and the pair continue an impressive run of successful qualifications for the Olympic Games.
Japan booked a place at the Olympiad for a sixth tournament in a row while Korea extended their Asian record run of eight successive qualifications for the finals.
“I didn’t think about the eight consecutive qualifications and I didn’t think about the bronze medal Korea won in London in 2012,” said coach Shin, who saw Ryu Seung-woo open the scoring for his team against Qatar before Ahmed Alaa levelled for the hosts 11 minutes from time.
“I was just thinking about this tournament and that we wanted to go to Brazil. I didn’t think about the previous record, but the media created an atmosphere around me and increased the pressure.
“But I felt that if I fell down my team would fall down, too, so I tried to keep my concentration and we are now going to Brazil. So now can start to think about the colour of the medal we can get in Brazil.”
Before commencing their preparations for Rio de Janeiro, Shin’s team take on a Japan side that has shown a collective strength rather than much individual brilliance throughout the tournament.
Makoto Teguramori’s team saw off the Iraqis after Yuya Kubo had given the Japanese the lead, only for Saad Natiq to ensure the teams went into the half-time break with the scores level.
The game looked destined for extra-time only for Harawkawa to score with a fine effort from outside the area to seal the win for Japan and book the team’s tickets for Rio de Janeiro.
“The game was a qualifier for Rio as well as the final so I’m relieved we won,” said Teguramori. “I really didn’t want the game to go into extra-time.
“In the second half we seemed to run out of gas as there was a moment Iraq had control of the game, but this was a good opportunity for the players to endure this. This was a close match and this is a good example for the next stage.
“But at the end of the second half, Iraq may have been thinking about extra-time so we looked to push them towards the goal which was thanks to the substitution of Takuma Asano in the last 15 minutes and we made a tremendous and dramatic second goal.”
With Japan and Korea taking two of Asia’s three berths in Brazil, Iraq and Qatar will face off on Friday to determine who will claim the remaining place at the Olympic Games.
Photo: Asian Football Confederation