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Japan, China set up explosive Asian Cup final
Updated: 2004-08-04 10:54

Defending champions Japan staged an epic fightback against a determined Bahrain to win a seven-goal thriller and set up an explosive Asian Cup final against hosts China, who downed Iran.

China's Shao Jiayi celebrates after scoring his team first goal against Iran during their semifinal match at the Asian Cup in Beijing August 3, 2004. China beat Iran 5-4 in a penalty shootout. [Reuters]
Japan sneaked into their third final in 12 years thanks to a superbly taken extra time goal from Keiji Tamada after twice clawing back from behind in an incident packed 4-3 victory in Jinan, east China's Shandong Province.

China were also forced to extra time, holding their nerve to make their first final in 20 years after a dramatic penalty shootout.

In a nailbiting finish, Chinese goalkeeper Liu Yunfei proved the hero, blocking a spot kick by Yahya Golmohammadi to send the hosts through 4-3 after the game ended 1-1 after extra time.

They are now unbeaten in 19 games stretching back to December 2003.

"For us it was like a novel. The scenario was right and we came out the winners in the end... but it is not finished," said China's coach Arie Haan.

It will be an intimidating atmosphere for Japan when they face China at the 65,000 capacity Workers' Stadium in Beijing on Saturday.

Japanese players have been heckled throughout the tournament by local crowds still incensed over Japan's World War II atrocities, and more of the same will likely be in store.

The incessant booing has become so bad that Japanese ministers and politicians complained Tuesday, calling on the Chinese government to take politics out of sport.

On the pitch, Japan shrugged off the crowd antics to stage a remarkable comeback against Gulf minnows Bahrain who have been the surprise of the tournament.

Japan's Keiji Tamada celebrates the winning goal to help Japan defeat Bahrain during the Asian Cup semifinal in Jinan, the capital city of China's northern Shandong province. [AFP]
Reduced to 10-men when Yasuihito Endo was controversially sent off 40 minutes into the first half, the champions had to dig deep.

They showed a never-say-die attitude that saw Tamada grab the winner three minutes into extra time after defender Yuji Nakazawa made it 3-3 with a diving header with just seconds remaining of normal play.

"I've been in soccer 40 years and I've seen some very exciting matches," said Japanese coach Zico, a key member of Brazil's legendary 1982 World Cup team.

"This was an exciting match... all the players have to play harder when a player gets sent off -- they did that today."

Bahrain had looked to have one foot in the final when substitute Duaij Nasser pounced for his second of the tournament with just five minutes remaining but Tamada's effort completed a roller-coaster encounter which saw the lead change hands four times.

Tournament top-scorer A'ala Hubail had ignited the match after burying a right-footed shot past Japan 'keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi on six minutes.

The goal stung Japan into action but their cause was dealt a blow when Endo was given his marching orders after brushing past Mohamad Salmeen, who went down clutching his face.

But Japan hit back after the break when Nakata rose at the near post to head in a corner, then Tamada rifled a shot past Ali Saeed just minutes later.

Bahrain pressed their advantage with A'ala Hubail scoring his fifth of the tournament with just 20 minutes left.

But the Bahraini celebrations proved premature, and with tempers flaring Sayed Jalal was red carded for punching Shunsuke Nakamura in extra time.

In Beijing, China completed the jigsaw that started on July 17 when 16 teams started their Cup campaign.

They made a meal of it though, failing to capitalise after Iranian defender Sattar Zare was sent off early in the second half for shoving midfield dynamo Shao Jiayi.

China opened the scoring in the 19th minute when Shao broke down the middle and fed a ball through Hao Haidong.

The veteran centre forward shook off a challenge before squaring the ball back to Shao who made no mistake from 12 metres out.

China pressed forward but Sayyed Alavi brought Iran level seven minutes from the break, sidefooting past Chinese keeper Liu Yunfei from 25 yards.

The match was up for grabs in extra time with both sides going close, but no one finding the killer final touch.

With the game 1-1 after extra time, Zhao Junzhe missed China's second spot kick in the penalty shootout before Eman Mobati did the same to put the two teams back level, leaving Liu to save the day.

Bahrain play Iran in the third-placed play-off in Beijing on Friday.

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