What: Asian Cup Semi-Final
Who: Japan vs South Korea
When: Tuesday, 25th January, 2011, at 13:25pm UK Time
Where: Al-Gharafa Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Blue Samurai swords drawn

Japan may have flattered to deceive in some of their matches in this Asian Cup, but they have still been by and large a very competitive unit despite injury worries. The new generation of Japanese players seem to have had a great sense of determination instilled in them as their come-from-behind victory against Qatar showed. Even when going down to ten men, and perhaps being on the end of some less than kind decision from the referee, the daihyo met their challenge head on.

Shinji Kagawa seems to have finally found his feet in the Asian Cup as he all but engineered Japan’s success against Qatar with two goals and an assist; it was also Keisuke Honda, the Blue Samurai’s other big name, that really came to the fore with some fantastic midfield play, and it was his dink over to Shinji Okazaki that essentially set up their first goal.

Alberto Zaccheroni has experience as a winner, but not at international level, and after leaking two goals against lowly Qatar, the Italian will certainly be leading the inquest to help shore up the defence ahead of the meeting with the much more fancied South Korea. With Atsuto Uchida returning from suspension, but similarly Maya Yoshida being unavailable for the same reason, "Zach" will have to wrack his brains yet again to find Japan’s best defensive formula.

‘Just in transition’

Many of the excuses to come out of many Asian camps has been that the team is ‘simply in transition’ and that the public ‘shouldn’t expect too much.’ South Korea, being one of these teams however, simply have not looked like an inexperienced team. Excluding the defensive third, all other players are under the age of 30, yet none have looked the least bit overawed by the occasion. This new breed of Taeguk warriors appear just as talented as their more experience counterparts did at last summer’s World Cup, taking away some very impressive results, not least of all their defeat of ‘undefeated’ Iran.

Ki Sung-Yong has been fantastic in midfield, and his dictation of play has been first class. A ball playing midfielder, Ki has shown immense class for his age with some precise passing that has set up more than a few attacks. Ji Dong-Won, another of the new breed, has also been looking just as likely as any other to take on the attacking mantle for Korea. A sweet technique, and a developing nose for goal, he could well lead the line for South Korea for a long time to come.

Coach Cho Kwang-Raw has done well with his young charges, but Japan will be a massive test for the Warriors. A traditional rivalry has always existed between the two, and it will be up to him to prepare his players to march into a veritable battlefield. The 56-year-old may not have the pedigree of his Japanese cohort, but his immense playing career might just prove to be the difference in inspiring his players.


Recent form


Syria 1–2 Japan
(13/01; Asian Cup Group B)
Saudi Arabia 0–5 Japan
(17/01; Asian Cup Group B)
Japan 3–2 Qatar
(21/01; Asian Cup Quarter-Final)

South Korea:
Australia 1–1 South Korea
(13/01; Asian Cup Group C)
South Korea 4–1 India
(18/01; Asian Cup Group C)
Iran 0–1 South Korea (22/01; Asian Cup Quarter-Final)

Players to watch

Japan – Makoto Hasebe: The Japanese captain has been immense this tournament and has been the best embodiment of the new found fighting spirit of the Blue Samurai. As a midfielder, there aren’t too many that play his role any better in Asia and the Wolfsburg man has garnered more than a few admirers from his performances. The first man in a long time to hold the captain’s armband and not also be the oldest in the team (as had been the Japanese custom) Hasebe will need to be at his leading best to rally the Blue Samurai to a victory.

South Korea – Park Ji-Sung: If ever there was an Asian footballer worthy of being labelled a ‘big game player’ there is no other in the present era than Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung. The skilful midfielder has won everything at United and has been greatly lauded for his important goals and never-say-die attitude. This may well be his last tournament with his country, and he will want to do everything possible to ensure victory. The 29-year-old has been quiet by his standards in this Asian Cup, but as captain in a semi-final against old rivals Japan, his tail will surely be up to ensure victory.

Match Prediction

This has the potential to be a blockbuster. The last time Japan and South Korea met at the Asian Cup was in the third place playoff in 2007. Not as much was on the line then, and it was South Korea that won out on penalties. Now, with a final appearance up for grabs, both teams will be giving it their all to secure a spot in their nation’s history. There remain questions over each side in terms of experience, injuries, suspensions and tactics, but this game will ultimately come down to who wants it more.

There has been so much history between these two teams, and so much pride will be played for. It is a game that both the South Korean and Japanese public stop to watch, eager to claim bragging rights, but with so much more on the line this time, the pressure will be immense. Fitness might be an issue for South Korea following their 120 minutes against Iran, but Japan are missing one or two key men too.

Who will be the first to crack? We will know at kick-off. This game is far too close to call. Whoever is the winner at the final whistle deserves to be there as they will be the ones that have fought the hardest. Sit back and enjoy the fireworks.