Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 19 News List

China, Japan to clash in regional final

ASIAN CUP The hosts beat Iran in a penalty shootout during the semifinals after Japan overcame Bahrain 4-3

AP , BEIJING

Sun Ji-hai, top, celebrates with Chinese teammates Li Xiao-peng, left, Li Wei-feng, center, and Shao Jia-yi after a penalty shootout victory in their Asian Cup semifinal match with Iran in Beijing, Tuesday. China beat Iran 4-3 in a penalty shootout after the teams drew 1-1 in regular time. China will appear in the Asian Cup final for the first time.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Host China advanced to their first-ever Asian Cup final on Wednesday with a 4-3 penalty shootout win against Iran after tying 1-1 in regulation time, setting up a match against Japan in the finals.

With past champion Iran reduced to 10 men for much of the match, Arie Haan's team pressed the attack, but weren't able to break the deadlock in extra time.

Victory came when Chinese goalkeeper Liu Yunfei batted down Yahya Golmohammadi's chipped penalty shot, setting off a delirious celebration among the more than 50,000 fans in Beijing's Workers' Stadium where the final will be played on Saturday.

"We fought and we fought and we never gave up. Now we've got to be ready for Japan who are definitely the strongest team in the region," said midfielder Shao Jiayi, who scored China's sole regulation time goal.

Keiji Tamada scored twice in Japan's come-from-behind 4-3 semifinal win over underdog Bahrain, a see-saw matchup that saw the lead change hands four times.

Reduced to 10 men for much of the match, Japan equalized three minutes into the second half off a corner by Takashi Fukunishi, then battled back again to level the score 3-3 just seconds before the end of regulation time with a bullet header from the near penalty spot by Yuji Nakazawa.

Tamada then nailed the winner three minutes into extra time, chipping the ball past advancing Bahraini goalkeeper Ali Saeed after receiving a long pass in front of the penalty area and dumping defender Hussain Baba.

Playing before enthusiastic support from the 32,000 spectators in the eastern city of Jinan, Bahrain's A'ala Hubail scored twice, and substitute Duaij Nasser added a third in the 85th minute. The tiny gulf state had appeared in only one previous Asian Cup and Croatian-born coach Srecko Juricic said his semi-professional players had been overcome by the Japanese pros' experience and fitness.

In the Beijing game, China opened scoring with Shao's 19th minute strike. Collecting a pass from Li Jingyu, veteran Hao Haidong ran the ball down to the lefthand corner and shook off three defenders before cutting back up field and passing to Shao who made no mistake with his shot.

Minutes later, Hao was brought down by a vicious tackle in front of the Iranian goal, but Lebanese referee Talaat Najim called no foul. Bleeding from the head, Hao had to be taken out of the stadium on a stretcher, with Manchester City defender Sun Jihai taking his place.

Iran equalized in the 38th minute when Sayyed Mohammed Alavi pounced on a short pass from Mehdi Mahdavikia, striking a rocket from the edge of the penalty box.

Iran was reduced to 10 men shortly after the start of the second half when Sattar Zare was sent off for fighting with Shao. Zare pushed Shao lightly in the chest but the Chinese midfielder fell to the ground dramatically, grasping his throat in pantomimed agony.

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