DOHA, Jan 25, 2011 (AFP) - Japan and Australia, Asia's two top-ranked sides, set up a mouth-watering Asian Cup final showdown after coming through their semi-final matches in starkly contrasting fashion on Tuesday.
Three-time champions Japan beat East Asian rivals South Korea 3-0 on penalties after a tense, even contest that saw the Koreans force a penalty shoot-out by equalising in the last minute of extra-time.
Australia's evening could barely have been more different, as they romped to an embarrassingly one-sided 6-0 demolition of hapless 10-man Uzbekistan to reach their first final in the continental showpiece.
|Australian fans wait for the start of the semi-final between Australia and Uzbekistan in Doha on January 25, 2011. AFP|
"We had a brilliant game, the players put on a great show and I'm full of praise for them. It was fantastic," said Australia's German coach Holger Osieck.
"The secret for victory was the way we set ourselves up on the pitch. We were very attack-oriented."
Japan's game at Doha's Al Gharafa Stadium was an electrifying affair in which the momentum swung both ways on numerous occasions before the South Korean youngsters' nerve finally deserted them in the shoot-out.
Centre-back Yasuyuki Konno netted the decisive penalty after Koo Ja-Cheol, Lee Yong-Rae and Hong Jeong-Ho had all failed from 12 yards for South Korea.
Japan led going into the final minute of extra-time but defender Hwang Jae-Won slammed in a sensational equaliser following a scramble inside the Japanese box to make it 2-2 and send the game to penalties.
Hwang had earlier conceded a penalty from which Japan had taken the lead early in extra-time, with substitute Hajime Hosogai converting a rebound after Keisuke Honda's spot-kick was saved by Jung Sung-Ryong.
Ki Sung-Yueng had put South Korea in front via another penalty mid-way through the first half, with Ryoichi Maeda drawing Japan level nine minutes before half-time.
"It was a hard game, a very hard game," said Japan's Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
"Credit to the Korea team. They are a fantastic, well-organised team. Winning against such a fantastic team makes me even more happy."
South Korea coach Cho Kwang-Rae praised his side for refusing to accept defeat.
"They never gave up, they pressured their opponents and controlled the game until the very end, which is how they managed to equalise," he said.
"We showed how strong we are in terms of fighting spirit and our desire to play football."
Australia's game at the Al Khalifa Stadium was all but over by half-time, as Osieck's experienced side dealt a harsh lesson to a Uzbek team that was also appearing at in first ever Asian Cup semi-final.
Galatasary forward Harry Kewell claimed the opener on five minutes when he rifled into the bottom-right corner and Asian player of the year Sasa Ognenovski doubled their lead 11 minutes before half-time.
Blackpool's David Carney finished a counter-attack to put the game beyond doubt on 65 minutes and when Uzbek striker Ulugbek Bakaev was sent off after picking up a second caution, the match was effectively over.
Australia started running riot, with Blackburn Rovers' Brett Emerton getting a fourth, Carl Valeri a fifth and Robbie Kruse a sixth as the shell-shocked Uzbeks went to pieces.
Vadim Abramov's side, ranked 82 places below the Socceroos in the FIFA world ranking, must now lift themselves for Friday's third-place play-off against the Koreans, when a place at the 2015 event in Australia will be on the line.
"It was a big problem for us today. I don't know what happened, there were just too many mistakes," said Abramov.
"Until now I didn't think we were so different from Australia. We wanted to attack but there were too many mistakes in our defence, that was our real problem."