Although this is the 15th Asian cup finals, it is the 11th time that we will have a semifinals stage, which was introduced in 1972. Since then, Iran held the record with 7 semifinals appearances, followed by South Korea, Saudi Arabia and China with 6 and Japan with 5.
The first 4 tournaments had a round-robin finals and the team that ended on the top of the group won the cup. If you add the top four finishers from those four cups, South Korea will be the record holder with 9 appearances, followed by Iran with 8 then Saudi Arabia and China with 6 and Japan with 5.
This is the first time in the history of the Asian cup that Western Asia will not have a representative in the final four. On the other hand, Australia and Uzbekistan will be making their first semifinals appearance.
All the semifinalists are still undefeated with similar record of 3 wins and one draw.
South Korea vs. Japan (Tuesday 8:25 am EST)
For the last 56 years, South Korea has defined Asian soccer. It is a founding member of the Asian confederation and alongside Malaysia; they are the only countries to enter every cup since the introduction of the competition.
South Korea is the most successful Asian side, in appearances, at both the World Cup finals (8 times) and the Asian cup finals (12, shared with Iran). But the fact that they managed to win the first two Asian cups, only, and none since then is puzzling. A fact, they are trying to change in this cup and they are more than capable of doing so.
Man Utd’s Park Ji Sung has shown his class in this cup. He is the engine of this team and his technical skills are unmatched. He is one of the favorites for the MVP award and will be making his 100th appearance against Japan, the Korean’s historical arch nemesis. Park will do his best to deliver the cup to his country, for the first time since 1960, on his final tournament appearance.
Japan, on the other hand, is a late bloomer. Although they first entered the qualification in 1968, the year they won the Olympic soccer bronze medal, their first appearance in the finals came in 1988. They won the cup in three out of the last five tournaments. Soccer in Japan has to play second fiddle to baseball and it wasn’t until the formation of a professional league in 1993 that the game matured on the international level.
Here in Qatar, occasionally, Japan has played to its reputation as the Barcelona of Asia and if it wasn’t for the lackluster performances on other times, they could have added many more goals to their tournament’s best of 11 goals in 4 matches.
To go through South Korea, they have to rely on their top stars Honda and Endo to deliver and hope that their German based Kagawa keep scoring. Japan’s other goal-scorers, Okazaki and Maeda, the heroes against Saudi Arabia, need to show that they can score against a stronger opposition.
South Korea won both previous meeting between these two teams in the finals. They won 2-0 in the group stage of 1988 and on PK (6-5) after drawing (0-0) in the third place game in 2007. This game promises an Entertaining all-attack soccer and unlike Iran/South Korea quarterfinals game, I think they will deliver and I see south Korea making it three wins out of three.
A preview of Australia v Uzbekistan will be posted shortly.
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