Japan clinch Asian Cup with extra-time strike


DOHA – Tadanari Lee scored an extra-time winner as Japan edged Australia 1-0 to win a pulsating Asian Cup final and become the most successful team in the history of the competition.
The unmarked substitute sent a stunning left-foot volley past the diving Mark Schwarzer in the 109th minute to hand his country their fourth title at the continental showcase, a feat no-one else has achieved.
The win, following their successes in 1992, 2000 and 2004, carried the added bonus of an automatic place at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil — the traditional World Cup warm-up tournament.
It followed a deadlocked match at 90 minutes that sent the game into extra-time, with penalties looking likely until Lee worked his magic.
Both teams had scored 13 times before the final and Australia looked most likely to add to that early on.
Harry Kewell had the first shot on target in the opening minute, an ambitious long-range drive that didn’t trouble Eiji Kawashima, while Matt McKay sliced a decent opportunity from inside the box just seconds later.
Schwarzer, who marked a significant milestone by surpassing Alex Tobin to set a new record for the most capped Socceroo ever on his 88th appearance, also found himself in action at the other end.
The 38-year-old, though, had Keisuke Honda’s half-chance easily covered. Australia were looking strong with Japan missing the spark of Shinji Kagawa, who broke a bone in his foot in their penalty shoot-out win over South Korea in the last four.
The Australians should have gone ahead on 15 minutes when Brett Holman whipped a low cross into the area but the stretching Carl Valeri could not connect.
In a dangerous period for Japan, Tim Cahill’s header forced a desperate one-handed save from Kawashima moments later as the Socceroos upped the ante.