Late Korean equaliser undone by dreadful spot-kicks
Eiji Kawashima saved twice in the shoot-out as Yasuyuki Konno, who gave away a penalty in normal time, put the winning spot-kick away.
Alberto Zaccheroni's side created a whole host of chances in the first half. In-form striker Shinji Okazaki went close with two early headers, the first of which went wide with the second forcing a superb save from Sung-Ryong Jung who scrambled to his left and tipped the ball onto the post.
But it was South Korea who took the lead in the 22nd minute from the penalty spot. A hopeful long punt forward from Hwang Jae-Won reaped dividends as Yasuyuki Konno leaned into Ji Sung Park, bringing down the winger inside the box. It was the correct decision and allowed Ki Sung Yong to confidently tuck the penalty away, despite Eiji Kawashima going the right way.
CSKA midfielder Honda was the beneficiary of some excellent build-up play from the Japanese on 25 minutes. He was picked out by Uchida only to disappointingly head straight at Sung-Ryong Jung. A minute before the break, Maeda found himself all alone but fired high over the crossbar, spurning yet another gilt-edged opportunity.
Japan netted a deserved equaliser nine minutes before the break with a wonderfully worked move, which cut the South Korean defence to ribbons. Keisuke Honda threaded a perfectly weighted pass through to Yuto Nagatomo down the left. The rampaging full-back kept his head to square the ball for Ryoichi Maeda, who tucked the ball home with ease.
Relief, final-ly | Goalkeeping heroics send Japan through
South Korea came close on the hour when Koo Jae-Cheol impossibly wormed his way past two defenders but he found the side netting with the angle against him. Yong Rae Lee went very close on 71 minutes with a left-footed free-kick that curled inches past the static Kawashima's goal.
A cautious approach in the final minutes of normal time frustrated the Japanese, but they quickly took the lead in extra-time when Jae-Won was penalised for obstruction against Okazaki, who fell inside the box although initial contact was made just outside the area.
Honda's penalty was mediocre at best and saved by the feet of Sung-Ryong Jung, but substitute Hajime Hosogai reacted the quickest and blasted the ball into the roof of the net. The goal stood despite encroachment into the area from a number of players.
South Korea refused to bow down and be beaten and they earned a penalty shootout in the most dramatic of circumstances. After an almighty goalmouth scramble, centre-half Hwang Jae-Won blasted the ball into the corner of the net to spark incredible celebrations.
But it wasn't to be for the Koreans, who were thwarted by Kawashima in the shootout.
Japan, who on the balance of play deserved to advance, will play the winners of the second semi-final between Uzbekistan and Australia on Saturday.