Olympics: South Korea beat Japan to win first football bronze
CARDIFF (AFP) - South Korea's men beat fierce Asian rivals Japan 2-0 in the play-off for bronze on Friday to claim the country's first ever Olympic football medal.
Japan were bidding to emulate the Japanese team of 1968, who won bronze at the Mexico Games, but despite enjoying more possession, the Asian champions were twice unpicked by their opponents' clinical counter-attacks.
Arsenal striker Park Chu Young and captain Koo Ja Cheol scored either side of half-time, as the Taeguk Warriors claimed a measure of revenge for the senior side's penalty shoot-out loss to Japan at last year's Asian Cup.
"This is one of the most special moments for me and my team," said Koo.
"I'm very proud to be one of the first footballers to become medallists in Korean history." South Korea's government had promised to spare the players military service if they won the bronze medal and the final whistle sparked wild celebrations from the victors, while Japan's players slumped to the turf in despair.
"I'm really upset about the outcome. We were able to play our football, but the result just didn't follow," said Japan striker Kensuke Nagai.
"But it's been a really good experience and I hope that we can achieve a better result next time." The intensity of the rivalry between the sides, and the bumpy nature of Cardiff's Millennium Stadium playing surface, did not make for a high-quality first half.
The first opportunities that arose fell Japan's way, but Hiroshi Kiyotake's low curler was turned away by Jung Sung Ryong and Hiroki Sakai's header from a right-wing corner flashed narrowly wide of the far post.
The Koreans, who eliminated hosts Great Britain in a quarter-final penalty shoot-out, went ahead against the run of play in the 38th minute.
Park endured a dreadful debut campaign with Arsenal last season, making six appearances and scoring only one goal, but he looked every inch the international goalscorer as he put Korea ahead.
Receiving the ball with a trio of retreating defenders blocking his path to goal, Park wrong-footed them all by sharply sweeping the ball to his right before beating Suici Gonda at his near post with a low shot.
Japan showed more enterprise after the interval but in the 57th minute they were caught cold by another South Korean sucker-punch.
Park's flick-on found Koo and the captain nudged the ball away from Daisuke Suzuki before drilling an unerring shot into the bottom-left corner.
Coach Hong Myung Bo's side almost killed Japan off moments later, but Kim Bo Kyung's bending left-foot shot was superbly tipped onto the post by Blue Samurai goalkeeper Gonda.
Japan thought they had pulled a goal back in the 87th minute, but centre-back Maya Yoshida's header was ruled out for a foul on South Korean goalkeeper Jung.
Brazil, 3-0 winners over South Korea in the semi-finals, tackle Mexico in Saturday's final at Wembley Stadium.