The Koreans earn themselves third place in the Olympic tournament, and exemption from military service, thanks to a goal in each half from two of their star players
South Korea earned the Olympic bronze medal against Japan thanks to a 2-0 victory in a keenly contested match.
The game began with both sides playing an intense, uncompromising brand of football, and after several yellow cards, it was South Korea who took the lead through Arsenal striker Park Chu-Young in the 38th minute.
The second half saw South Korea double their advantage in the 56th minute through captain Koo Ja-Cheol, before holding off multiple Japanese attacks to earn themselves third place in the tournament.
South Korea made three changes to the team that lost 3-0 to Brazil in the semi-finals, with a recall for Park up front in place of Hyun-Sung Kim and also for first-choice goalkeeper Sung Ryong-Jung after he returned from injury.
Meanwhile, the Japanese named an unchanged side from their 3-1 defeat to Mexico in the other semi-final, with Kensuke Nagai retained as the lone striker.
A cagey first half began with the Millennium Stadium bathed in sunshine, as both sides struggled to keep the ball on a slightly inferior pitch.
The South Koreans initially enjoyed slightly more possession in the opening stages, but neither side managed to create any real openings, other than a skied volley by Japan’s Keigo Higashi in the 16th minute.
Despite the lack of clear chances, the game had a very intense feel to it, with Korea’s Oh Jaesuk and Sung Yong-Ki both being cautioned within a couple of minutes of each other for fouls on Japan’s Yuki Otsu around the 25th minute.
It took until the 27th minute for either side to create a first opening, as Japanese midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake tried to curl a shot around Sung-Ryong Jung in goal, but the Korea managed to push the ball clear.
The game then descended into near-chaos in the 34th minute, as Korea’s captain Koo Ja-Cheol slid in with a bad tackle on Otsu right in front of the Japanese bench, earning the skipper a yellow card and sparking some minor scuffles between the two teams.
However, Japan created a good chance of their own minutes later as, from a corner, Gotoku Saki found himself unmarked but could only put his header wide of the post.
Immediately, Korea staged a breakaway move, and after receiving a long ball through, Park Chu-Young managed to wriggle past several Japanese defenders and slot home for a superb individual goal in the 38th minute.
It was perhaps slightly against the run of play, but the Koreans had a chance to double their lead just a minute later, as the ball dropped to left-back Yun Suk-Young inside the penalty area, but he sent his shot wide of the post as the half drew to a close.
Japan had a golden opportunity to level early in the second period through Otsu, who was instrumental in a number of intricate passes in the build-up, but he scuffed his shot and was not supported by the rest of his team-mates as the ball trickled away from danger.
However, just a minute later, the Koreans were celebrating again, as a long ball was taken on by captain Ja-Cheol, who controlled the ball and calmly stroked it home to give his side a 2-0 lead just before the hour mark.
The Koreans clearly had the momentum, and Kim Bo-Kyung tried to curl a shot into the top corner moments later, but saw it clawed onto the post superbly by Gonda, who managed to keep his side in the game by his fingertips.
The game then descended into something of a midfield battle, as both teams struggled to gain any supremacy in the match and were unable to keep possession for a good amount of time.
In the 87th minute, Japan thought they had pulled a goal back through Yoshida’s header from a corner, but the referee ruled that South Korea’s goalkeeper Sung-Ryong had been impeded.
However, the Japanese could not create any further chances, and it was South Korea who took the bronze medal at the final whistle.