Saturday, January 29, 2011

Japan on track for fourth Asian Cup title

Japan searching for an Asian Cup titleThey've scrapped, they've scraped and they've even overcome a penalty shoot-out: it seems like nothing can stop Japan in their quest for a fourth Asian Cup title.

Japan conceded a soft equaliser just seconds away from an extra-time win over arch-rivals South Korea in their semi-final, only for goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to stand tall as he saved the Taeguk Warriors' first two penalties in a one-sided shoot-out victory.

Now Australia are all that stands between Japan and a record fourth Asian Cup crown, although the Socceroos could prove a formidable opponent after thrashing Uzbekistan 6-0 en route to a Khalifa Stadium showdown.

That's especially the case now that Japan's quarter-final hero Shinji Kagawa has been ruled out through injury, with the Samurai Blue set to miss one of their most effective attacking outlets.

Nagoya Grampus forward Jungo Fujimoto or Urawa Reds playmaker Yosuke Kashiwagi are potential replacements for coach Alberto Zaccheroni, although he could once again rely heavily on CSKA Moscow star Keisuke Honda - who has already been nominated for the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.

Honda missed a penalty in normal time during the dramatic win over South Korea - substitute Hajime Hosogai slammed home the rebound - and the highly-rated front man will be eager to improve on the big stage, with a host of European giants reputedly clamouring for his signature.

Japan will need to overcome the strength and size of an Australian side desperate to claim a first ever Asian crown in what is only their second appearance in the tournament.

Speed versus strength, skill versus size - it's shaping up to be a fascinating Asian Cup final, and one that Samurai Blue fans everywhere are hoping will confirm their status as Asia's premier side.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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