Asian Cup 2011: Japan's Path To The Final

Goal.com looks back at how the Samurai Blue got to the 2011 Asian Cup final.
Japan have scored 30 goals in 11 games on their way to the 2011 Asian Cup final and that's reflective of their embarrassment of attacking riches.

In Qatar the Samurai Blue have conceded six goals however in five games and have suffered from the absence of regular centre-backs Yuji Nakazawa and Tulio Tanaka.

The impact of their injuries has been negated however by the form of striker Shinji Okazaki, who not only top-scored during qualifying with six goals but who has added another dimension to his side's attack at the tournament itself.

Having had to earn a starting spot after coming off the bench to rescue his team during the group stages, he has proven Japan's most reliable source of goals.

Pre-tournament favourites, the Japanese underwhelmed in their opening bout with Jordan, where the likes of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa struggled to exert their creative influence on the match.



Honda has underwhelmed
in Qatar.
In fact, both players have been rather under-par despite Honda laughably being named on the short-list for the Asian Football Confederation's Player of the Tournament award.

Instead it has been the tireless running of the likes of Okazaki, Yuto Nagatomo and Makoto Hasebe that has driven Japan forward.

A team reputed for their neat approach play, they had to show character and pick up four ugly points against Jordan and Syria in their first two matches.

Centre-back Maya Yoshida has typified the sort of graft that has been so important and netted an injury-time equalizer in the opening match against Jordan, before Keisuke Honda scored a late penalty against Syria to secure a 2-1 win.

Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was questionably sent off in that match, though his absence wasn't felt against already-eliminated Saudi Arabia in the final group game, where Okazaki's hat-trick and Ryoichi Maeda's double spurred Japan on to a 5-0 win.

Kawashima returned for the quarter final against hosts Qatar, where he let in two soft goals. Again though Japan showed tremendous spirit.

After seeing Maya Yoshida wrongly sent off for a legal challenge, Fabio Cesare scored what seemed a 63rd minute winner from the ensuing free-kick.

Shinji Kagawa produced his best display of the tournament after coming under scrutiny for his lack of attacking contributions, netting a superb equalizer before Masahiko Inoha - in for the suspended Atsuto Uchida - scored a last-minute winner.


Okazaki's has consistently
performed for Japan.


It set up a tantalizing semi-final with archrivals South Korea and the Japanese again were on the wrong side of a poor officiating decision, Ki Sung-Yueng netting a 23rd minute penalty.

The aforementioned Maeda equalized thirteen minutes later before substitute Hajime Hosogai scored the rebound from a saved Keisuke Honda penalty-kick in extra time, in what was an end-to-end match.

Somehow an exhausted South Korea - coming off a gruelling 120 minutes against Iran in their own quarter-final - scrambled home a last-minute equalizer to take the game into penalties.

Of all people, the maligned Kawashima proved the spot-kick hero as the South Koreans missed their first three penalties, Japan securing their place in the final with a famous and rare win.


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