GUANGZHOU: Yuki Saneto scored midway through the second half and Japan repelled numerous attacking raids by the United Arab Emirates to secure its first Asian Games title 1-0 on Thursday.
The young Japanese squad had been favored to win but was subdued for much of the match, depending on long balls and counterattacks to create opportunities while the UAE frequently controlled the pace with its short, passing game.
Saneto latched onto a floating cross from the left in the 74th minute and rifled a right-foot shot from an acute angle past UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif Housani.
“Before the game I told my players to contain the UAE’s strength and try to create momentum and rhythm on our side,” Coach Takashi Sekizuka said. “I told my players to be patient—patience brings about good opportunities.”
Japan won all seven of its games in Guangzhou and conceded just one goal, in the semifinal against Iran.
South Korea won the bronze medal match earlier 4-3 over Iran earlier Thursday. The Koreans went into halftime training 2-0 but rallied and substitute Ji Dong-won scored in the 88th minute to equalize. He added the deciding goal just a minute later.
UAE, which was making its first appearance in the Asian Games finals, came into the match after a win over Asian football power South Korea that was up for grabs until the last kick of extra time, when Ahmed Ali Alabry scored the winner.
But if they were tired from that grueling semifinal it did not show, as UAE finished with six shots on goal to Japan’s two and controlled the ball for nearly 60 percent of the game.
“We tried to diversify our ways of attack … but were unlucky and that’s football, you may perform beautifully but you may not score,” assistant coach Hassan Al Abdouli said.
“We improved to the point that some of the teams were forced to defend while we were playing. We learned a lot, we are on the right track,” he said. “We are looking forward to the London Olympics and what’s beyond the Olympics.”
Alabry had the UAE’s best chance to score when he took a shot from right in front of the goal just minutes into the second half. The ball hit the crossbar, bounced to the ground and rebounded onto the crossbar again off the heel of Japanese goalkeeper Shunsuke Ando, who gathered it on the second deflection. Alabry covered his face with his hands in disbelief.
He also had a shot at the beginning of the game with a crowd-pleasing bicycle kick that was easily scooped up by Ando. The keeper had to dive to contain a glancing header off a long pass from substitute Saeed Salem Al Kathiri in the 81st minute.
The UAE team was by far the crowd favorite at Tianhe Stadium. The Chinese fans whistled and booed when the Japanese team launched attacks, cheering when their players lost the ball.