Hard loss for Koreans, ending long quest for a title

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Hard loss for Koreans, ending long quest for a title

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Korean football players hang their heads after losing to Japan on penalty kicks in their AFC Asian Cup semifinal football match in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday night. [AP/YONHAP]


Korea will have to wait another four years for a shot at ending its Asian Cup title drought after losing on penalty shootout to Japan in the semifinals of the 2011 Asian Cup on Tuesday night in Doha, Qatar.

Korea will now face Uzbekistan in the third-place match on Saturday at midnight, Korean time.

Looking for a shot at its first Asian Cup title since 1960, Korea played a closely contested match against its archrival Japan and managed to send the game into penalty shootout on Hwang Jae-won’s dramatic equalizer in added time of extra time in the second half. But the Taegeuk Warriors lost on penalty kicks, 3-0.

Despite having several experienced veterans for penalty shootout, like Lee Young-pyo, Park Ji-sung, Lee Chung-yong and Cha Du-ri in the lineup, national team manager Cho Kwang-rae opted to go with young players like Koo Ja-cheol, Lee Yong-rae, Hong Jeong-ho, Son Heung-min and Ki Sung-yeung.

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With the game on the line, the young players who had come up big for Korea throughout the tournament withered under pressure and failed to score a single penalty shootout goal.

Koo and Lee Yong-rae’s shots were blocked by Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, while the third kicker Hong Jeong-ho narrowly missed the net. Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Yasuyuki Konno scored to give Japan the win.

“We practiced the penalty-kick order leading up to the game,” said Cho at a post-match press conference. “It might have been fatigue setting in but I don’t think our players were able to perform up to their capabilities.”

Said Hong: “With the first two kickers failing to score, I felt nervous taking the kick.”

Korea opened the scoring when Park Ji-sung was fouled by Konno in the penalty box in the 23rd minute and Ki scored on the ensuing penalty kick. With starting center defender Lee Jung-soo missing from the lineup, Korea’s defense looked shaky at times in the first half and Ryoichi Maeda managed to level the score at one goal apiece in the 36th minute.

Neither side scored in second-half regulation and the game went into extra time. Japan was awarded a penalty kick in the 97th minute when defender Hwang Jae-won fouled Shinji Okazaki.

Honda’s penalty shot was blocked by Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong but Hajime Hosogai was able to kick in the rebound to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 97th minute.

With time winding down, Korea desperately attempted to tie the game and Hwang managed to make up for his earlier defensive lapse by scoring the tying goal in added time to push the match into penalty shootout.

“Our players pressured our opponents until the very end and managed to score the equalizer,” said Cho. “It’s a sign that Korean football can develop further. I’m satisfied with the way our players competed. ”

Cho and the national team came up short of winning an Asian Cup title but Cho did manage a successful transition to a younger team, infusing the national team with talented young players.

The 2011 Asian Cup will likely spell the end for veterans Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo.

Both players said in a post-match interview that they will make an announcement on their future with the national team after the third-place game against Uzbekistan.


By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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