Sun, Jul 22, 2007 - Page 24 News List

Japn beat Aussies in penalty shootout

SENT HOMEThe Socceroos, reduced to 10 men with 15 minutes to play after Vinve Grella was sent off, hung on bravely in extra-time but missed their first two spot kicks


Japan won a tense penalty shootout yesterday to beat a desperately unlucky Australia after a high-octane game in grueling conditions to make the Asian Cup semi-finals.

Keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was the defending champion's hero, blocking the Socceroos first two spot kicks from Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill, with Yuji Nakazawa scoring the winner.

The match ended 1-1 after extra-time with two goals in the space of three minutes in the second half sparking the game to life.

John Aloisi made the breakthrough for Australia in the 69th minute only for Naohiro Takahara to level soon after.

Australia were reduced to 10 men with 15 minutes to play after Vince Grella was sent off for elbowing Naohiro Takahara but Japan failed to capitalize despite creating a hatful of chances as the game went to extra-time.

Japan should have finished it and went agonizingly close with Mark Schwarzer pulling off a spectacular save in the dying seconds to take the tie to penalties.

Both coaches had been keen to play down the revenge aspect of the game following Australia's 3-1 victory over Japan at the World Cup in Germany, but it was clear the Blue Samurai desperately wanted to win this one.

They had the better of a first half played in hot and muggy conditions, making the most of the absence of Liverpool attacking midfielder Kewell and Everton dynamo Tim Cahill who again started on the bench.

Australia showed their intent early on with some bruising tackles and attacking play with Brett Emerton threatening on the right wing.

But Japan were composed, slowing the game to their own pace in front of a half-full My Dinh National Stadium, with some impressive build-up play, orchestrated by Shunsuke Nakamura and his trusty left foot.

Japan had the first clear chance in the eighth minute with Seiichiro Maki steering a diving header just wide of Schwarzer's right-hand upright after a pinpoint cross from Yushuhito Maki.

At the other end Mark Viduka was using his strength to create space and drilled a right foot shot into goalkeeper Kawaguchi's arms two minutes later.

Japan's intentions were clear when it came to the Newcastle striker -- close him down at all costs, with two defenders sticking to him like glue.

Despite the return from suspension of Neill, Australia again looked suspect at the back with Endo dangerous on the left and Nakamura driving the midfield and engineering some attractive soccer.

Neill glanced a header wide at the other end midway through the half and Takahara blew a great chance on the half-hour mark when he found himself in meters of space.

Japan came out for the second half in an attacking mood and nearly opened the scoring in the first minute when Kengo Nakamura forced a fine one-handed save from a diving Schwarzer.

They went close again 10 minutes later when Schwarzer fumbled a 20m shot from Takahara with Maki unable to collect the rebound.

Kewell was introduced with 30 minutes left, replacing a tired Viduka, and sparked the Socceroos to life.

The dealock wasn't to last long with Aloisi making the breakthrough, latching onto a Kewell corner that sneaked through at least three pairs of legs.

Australia's joy was short lived with Takahara levelling barely three minutes later after an horrendous mistake by Milligan who failed to clear a loose ball.

With both teams exhausted, Japan pressed for victory in extra-time and had several chances, but it petered out into a battle of stamina that ended in the penalty shootout.

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