Taeguk Warriors trounce Japan to win EAFF title

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Taeguk Warriors trounce Japan to win EAFF title


The Korean men’s national football team celebrates with the trophy after winning the East Asian Football Federation E-1 Football Championship at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday. [YONHAP]

After 2,764 days, the Korean men’s national football team finally managed to beat Japan to win the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Football Championship at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday. The final score of 4-1 was the first time since 1972 that Korea has defeated Japan with a margin of three goals.

Though Korea is well ahead of Japan in the all-time head-to-head record, in recent matches the Taeguk Warriors haven’t managed to win since a friendly in May 2010. After the friendly, Korea had quite disappointing results, losing 3-0 in a friendly in Sapporo, Japan in 2011 and losing 2-1 during the 2013 E-1 Championship in Jamsil, southern Seoul.

“We’ll win in the Korea-Japan match,” head coach Shin Tae-yong said prior to the game. “We’ll prepare focusing on the result rather than the process.”

Though Shin showed strong determination to win against Japan, Korea’s results in the previous two matches - a 2-2 draw against China and a 1-0 win against North Korea due to an own goal - didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Fans also criticized Shin’s choice to give players a day off rather than practice for the two days before the game.

But the extra day of rest worked. Korea got off to a shaky start by allowing Japan to take an early lead just two minutes into the match from Yu Kobayashi’s spot kick. However, the Taeguk Warriors quickly responded just ten minutes after the goal, as Kim Shin-wook scored an equalizer assisted by Kim Jin-soo. Then, in the 23rd minute, Jung Woo-yong allowed Korea to take the lead with a free kick. Unlike the first two matches of the East Asian Cup, Korea stayed sharp and pressured the opponent to shut out Japan’s offensive line.

By the end of the first half Korea was significantly ahead of Japan in terms of attempts on goal, at 10 to two. Korea continued to push toward the goal despite their lead, with Kim scoring another goal in the 34th and Yeom Ki-hun sending home Korea’s fourth goal to extend the lead by three in the 70th minute.

Japan made a last-minute attempt, but Korea’s defense concluded the match without allowing any additional goals. Though the first two matches of the East Asian Cup may have been disappointments, Korea finally lived up to the fans’ expectation when it really mattered. After seven years and seven months, Korea finally improved its all-time head-to-head record against Japan to 41 wins, 23 ties and 14 losses.

“The players were desperate to win,” Shin said after the match. “We allowed a goal early into the match, but staying calm has led us to a good result.”

After the match, Korea swept the individual awards. Lee was named MVP, scoring one goal and an assist, as well as winning the Best Duel Player award. Throughout the tournament, Lee was the center of the team’s strategy, with Shin allowing the team’s offense to be more aggressive by moving around Lee’s position.

Kim, who scored a total of three goals, won the scoring title and Jo Hyeon-woo was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament.

With a record of two wins and one tie, Korea successfully defended its title at the E-1 Football championship. Korea has won the tournament a total of four times - in 2003, 2008, 2015 and 2017.

The victory has also allowed Shin to prove his coaching ability. Since he made his debut as the national team’s head coach, Shin was continuously criticized for Korea’s poor performance. After barely advancing to the World Cup from a scoreless draw against Uzbekistan at the final qualification match and losing friendly matches against Russia and Morocco, Korean football fans criticized Shin’s lack of ability to coach the team, although the team did not have any of its K league players due to their regular season schedule.

With only six months remaining until the World Cup, Shin now has time to prepare with confidence, as fans will no longer criticize his leadership, strategy and selection abilities so readily. After a day off, Shin will be departing to Europe tomorrow to check on the players in the European leagues.

“This tournament was a run-up for the World Cup,” Shin said after the match. “We got the result, but there are still a lot that we need to improve on.”

BY KIM JI-HAN, PIH JU-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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