BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
South Korea U-23 have successfully defended their Asian Games men's football gold medal, after they defeated rivals Japan U-23 2-0 in the final match on Saturday.
In the match that was held at the Pakansari Stadium, West java, Indonesia, the South Koreans were forced into extra time after regulation time ended goalless. But Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min showed his character, assisting two goals in extra time, scored by Lee Seungwoo (93') and Hwang Hee-chan (101'). Ayase Ueda pulled one back for Japan in the 115th minute, but they could not force the much-needed equaliser.
From the kick-off, the South Koreans, who exercised their option of registering three overaged players in the tournament squad, showed their superiority and asked all the questions. They could have gone in front as early as the seventh minute. Hwang Inbeom near the right Japanese goalpost squared the ball a short distance across the goalmouth towards Hwang Ui Jo at the far post with custodian Ryosuke Kojima already beaten, but the Gamba Osaka forward was a fraction of a second too late in connecting with the delivery.
In the 23rd minute Hwang dribbled from the right before cutting back into the box, but his shot was safely palmed away by Kojima.
Against the run of play, Japan almost opened the scoring in the 28th minute. Midfielder Koji Miyashi dribbled past a defender into the Korea penalty box, before trying to smash the ball from a tight angle. This time, it was goalkeeper Jo Hyeonwoo's turn to prove his mettle, palming the ball out.
The first half ended 0-0.
The Japanese defence remained a tough nut to crack in the second half, so South Korea head coach Kim Hak-bum brought on another forward Lee Seung-woo, and took off midfielder Kim Jung-min in the 58th minute.
However, the second half too ended goalless.
Right after the the first extra time kicked off, Son almost broke the deadlock. Stealing the ball from a Japanese defender who slipped right outside his box, he tried a low shot into the bottom far corner, but his attempt went agonisingly wide.
But two minutes later, he would help them find the lead. Combining well with substitute Lee Seungwoo, he ran with the ball inside the box but smartly allowed the forward to smash the ball in.
This seemed to do the trick, and the floodgates were opened afterwards. In the 101st minute, Son's free kick taken near the left corner flag found Hwang Hee-chan at the far post, and Hee-chan headed the ball across the goalmouth, beyond Kojima's grasp, and into the back of the net at the far post.
Japan however managed to pull one back in the 115th minute. A poorly-marked Ayase Ueda nodded in a corner from the right, to rattle the match leaders. They almost found a quick second minutes later due to a defensive mix-up, but South Korea goalkeeper Hyeonwoo managed to get his hands first on the ball.
The South Koreans held on, even with Son taken off in the injury time, and won the match with a 2-1 scoreline.
The win has given South Korea their fifth Asian Games men's football medal to emerge as the best men's team in the event, after last doing it in the 2014 edition, which the country hosted.
Whereas for Son, he is now set to earn an exemption from serving in his country's two-year national service as an Asiad gold-medallist, and can return to his club and concentrate on his footballing career.
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