Korea crash out of U-23 Asian Cup after 3-0 loss to Japan
Defending champions Korea were unceremoniously dumped out of the U-23 Asian Cup on Sunday after losing 3-0 to Japan in the quarterfinals.
After a slow start at Pakhtakor Central Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Japan quickly took control of the game.
Their first serious attempt in the 19th minute was saved by keeper Min Seong-jun, who made his tournament debut on Sunday, but just a couple of minutes later a Go Jae-hyeon foul gave Japan a free kick that deflected off Park Jeong-in’s head into the crossbar, and then into the back of the net.
That first goal was the young Taeguk Warriors' downfall. While Japan increased the intensity of their attacks, Korea was clearly knocked on the backfoot and struggled to rally for the rest of the first half.
Korea were a different squad after the break, confidently going on the offensive and seriously threatening the Japanese goal for the first time in the game. Hong Hyun-seok nearly got the Taeguk Warriors on the scoreboard in the 48th minute, but an unfortunate deflection sent the ball wide. Cho Young-wook and Yang Hyun-jun both had chances in the next 15 minutes, but both ended up as near misses.
Japan, meanwhile, did not waste their chances. Mao Hosoya tapped in a rebound in the 65th minute to put the young Samurai Blue up 2-0, with Yuito Suzuki adding his second goal of the game in the 80th minute.
Korea, meanwhile, brought on Oh Se-hun in the 72nd minute to try and revitalize the attack. The U-23 team veteran helped Korea push back toward the Japanese goal, but the damage was done and there was little the Taeguk Warriors could do to redress the balance.
The 3-0 loss not only knocks Korea out of the 2022 U-23 Asian Cup, but also marks the first time in the history of the tournament that a Korean squad has failed to reach the final four.
In 2013, the year the U-23 Asian Cup was founded, Korea finished fourth after losing to Jordan on penalties in the third-place playoff. In 2016, Korea lost 3-2 to Japan in the final to finish in second place, before again slipping back to fourth in 2018 when they dropped the third-place playoff to Qatar, 1-0.
In 2020, Korea shot through the entire tournament without dropping a single game, beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final to take the Asian Cup.
Korea entered the knockout stage undefeated, having topped Group C with two wins and a draw. The Taeguk Warriors beat Malaysia 4-1 in their opening game on June 2 and then had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Vietnam in the second game on June 5. Korea beat Thailand 1-0 in the final group stage game on June 8.
Japan finished in second place in Group D with two wins and a draw, falling behind Saudi Arabia on goal difference.
Japan now advance to the semifinals where they will face hosts Uzbekistan, who beat Iraq on penalties in their quarterfinal, at Milliy Stadium in Tashkent on Wednesday.
On the other side of the bracket, Saudi Arabia beat Vietnam to advance to the semifinals, while Australia beat Turkmenistan. They will also face off on Wednesday at Pakhtakor Central Stadium.
The two losing sides will play the third-place playoff on Saturday, with the final to follow on Sunday.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]