Japan Beat Bahrain to Reach Asian Cup Final vs China

Aug. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Japan rallied from a goal down in the last minute to beat Bahrain 4-3 in extra time and reach Saturday's Asian Cup soccer final against China, which defeated Iran 4-3 in a penalty shootout.

Defending champion Japan, reduced to 10 men in the first half, trailed 3-2 in Jinan until Yuji Nakazawa dived to head his team's third goal in the 90th minute. Keiji Tamada completed the comeback by scoring three minutes into the extra period.

``We did not panic when we went one man down,'' Japan coach Zico told the tournament's official Web site. ``We relaxed and played our normal game. We withstood the mental pressure.''

Host China advanced to its second final of Asia's four-yearly championship after tying 1-1 against three-time champion Iran, which had a player sent off early in the second half in Beijing. China goalkeeper Liu Yunfei made the last save of the shootout from Yahjya Golmohammadi's attempted chip.

Japan is seeking a record-tying third Asian soccer title in 12 years, while China has yet to win.

``In the penalty kicks we needed luck,'' said China's Dutch coach Arie Haan. ``For us it was like a novel. The scenario was right and we came out the winners in the end, but it is not finished.''

The Bahrainis, cheered on by most of the crowd at the Shandong Sports Centre, looked set for a first-ever final when substitute Duaij Naser gave them a 3-2 lead in the 86th minute.

Japan's Alessandro Santos seized on a defensive mistake in the final minute of regular time to cross to Nakazawa, who dived to direct his header into the far corner and take the match into the extra period. Tamada then ran clear and slotted a shot past goalkeeper Al Saeed to seal the victory with his second goal.

A'ala Hubail, who scored twice for Bahrain to lift his tally to a tournament-high five goals, missed from two yards in the closing minutes, his team's best chance to force a penalty shootout. Bahrain's team, chosen from a population of 600,000, was playing in its second Asian Cup.

`Fitness Told'

``Japan's fitness told in the end but overall we can be very satisfied,'' Bahrain coach Srecko Juricic told reporters. ``Our goal was to get past the first round. We ended up reaching the semifinal and came close to a place in the final.''

It was the latest recovery by the team managed by former Brazil World Cup star Zico. Japan had fought back from a goal down in its quarterfinal against Jordan and won through in a shootout after missing its first two kicks.

This rally came after Hubail put Bahrain ahead in the sixth minute and then made it 2-2 in the 70th minute after goals by Koji Nakata and Tamada within 10 minutes of halftime. Tamada's was a drive into the roof of the net from wide on the left.

``We kept giving 100 percent,'' said Zico, who was unable to select stars including Hidetoshi Nakata and Shinji Ono for the tournament. ``It was an exciting game between two strong teams.''

At Beijing Workers' Stadium, Shao Jiayi grabbed China's opening goal in the 18th minute with a 14-yard shot before Sayyed Alavi swept a 25-yard strike into the net to make it 1-1 in the 37th minute.

Missed Chances

Iran had Sattar Zare sent off for pushing Shao Jiayi in the chest after 47 minutes, prompting protests from the away team. Alavi, having been substituted, was then shown a red card for his reaction when the referee awarded a yellow card instead of red for a Zhang Yaokun foul as Ali Karimi surged toward goal.

China's Sun Jihai and Li Jinyu missed chances to win the match late in regular time, while Iran's Ali Badavi miskicked a shot wide from six yards in the 90th minute with just the goalkeeper to beat. Sun Xiang rattled the crossbar with a 30-yard left-foot drive halfway through extra time, the closest either side came to scoring again.

China missed the first penalty of the shootout and pulled back to 3-3 before Eman Mobali hit Iran's fourth shot onto the crossbar. Shao then fired his effort into the top of the net for a 4-3 lead to China.

Golmohammadi, attempting to deceive the goalkeeper with a slow and straight shot, chipped the ball and Yunfei was able to stretch a hand back and push it away to lift his team into its first final since 1984.

``Penalty kicks first of all are more luck than quality,'' said Iran coach Branko Ivankovic. ``China kicked them better than us so they deserved to win.''

Iran will play Bahrain in Friday's third-place playoff in Beijing. China is seeking to become the first host since Japan in 1992 to win the competition.

By Grant Clark
Aug 3, 2004
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