Japan defeated Uzbekistan 1-0 to win the U-23 Asian Cup

Japan secured the men’s U-23 Asian Cup on Friday after substitute Fuki Yamada struck a late winner in a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in the final.

The Samurai Blue, who had already sealed their place at the Paris Olympics with a top-three finish in Doha, also had goalkeeper Leo Brian Kokubo to thank for saving a penalty as they lifted the title for the first time in four tournaments claimed. last won in 2016.

Japan’s Fuki Yamada celebrates after scoring the winner in second-half stoppage time in the U-23 Asian Cup final against Uzbekistan at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on May 3, 2024. (Kyodo)

The result means Go Oiwa’s side will face Paraguay, Mali and Israel in Group D in Paris, where the tournament kicks off on July 24. Iraq defeated Indonesia 2-1 on Thursday to finish third and secure their place in Paris alongside Japan and Uzbekistan.

“It was an extremely tough match, but the players really worked hard,” Oiwa said. “We gave the people at home a few nerve-wracking moments, but we go to Paris as Asian champions and it would be great if they can give us another push.”

Uzbekistan put Japan under pressure in the first half, but without a clear chance at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium. Yamada entered the fray in the 71st minute and Japan made the late pressure count in the first of the eleven minutes added as Uzbekistan conceded for the first time in the tournament.

Japan’s Leo Brian Kokubo (R) saves a penalty from Uzbekistan’s Umarali Rahmonaliyev in stoppage time of the second half in the U-23 Asian Cup final at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on May 3, 2024. (Kyodo)

Defender Kota Takai won the ball just inside the opponent’s half and found captain Joel Chima Fujita, whose pass was flicked forward by Ryotaro Araki for Yamada 20 yards out. Tokyo winger Verdy set up and drilled a low shot into the right corner, through the legs of two Uzbek players.

There was more drama, however, as right-back Hiroki Sekine was said to have handled the ball in the area. Referee Mooud Bonyadifard was asked to check the monitor on the field long after the incident and was awarded a penalty.

Japan celebrates winning the U-23 Asian Cup after beating Uzbekistan in the final at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on May 3, 2024. (Kyodo)

Kokubo dived to his right to deny Umarali Rahmonaliyev in the 10th minute of extra time as Japan held on for eight more minutes to clinch the title.

“Winning the tournament was the first thing we had to do and we can travel to Paris with confidence,” said Fujita, who was named tournament MVP. “We will chase the result there, with the aim of something we have never achieved in terms of (the color of) the medal and the title.”

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