South Korea handed fellow 2018 World Cup finalists Japan a brutal 4-1 home thrashing on Saturday night as Kim Shin-Wook inspired Shin Tae-Yong’s side to a come-from-behind win that sealed a successful defence of the East Asian Championship title.
J.League Player of the Year Yu Kobayashi gave Japan a third minute lead from the penalty spot in Tokyo. But Kim’s double, and goals from Jung Woo-young and Yeom Ki-Hun’s deflected free-kick, earned the South Koreans an emphatic and historic win.
The defeat was Japan’s biggest on home soil at the hands of the South Koreans since a 5-1 reversal for the Samurai Blue when the nations met for the very first time in 1954. The win meant the South Koreans moved above Japan in the final standings of the regional tournament.
“We won and that’s very good for us, but even though we won I think there is room for improvement and we would like to improve the Korean team so we can perform well at the World Cup,” South Korea coach Shin Tae-Yong said.
“We had to win today, so there was pressure. Immediately after the start we conceded a goal from a penalty, but the players pulled together and were able to come from behind and win, so I’m proud of my players.”
The Japanese made a strong start to the game, taking the lead with less than three minutes on the clock. Kobayashi smashed home his penalty after an early infringement by South Korean captain Jang Hyun-Soo.
That goal, though, sparked the Koreans into life. By the 13th minute, they were level when Kim Shin-Wook headed home Kim Jin-Su’s inch perfect cross from the left.
Just 10 minutes later, the South Koreans were in front after Shintaro Kuramaya’s needless lunge on Ju Se-Jong gifted Shin’s side a free kick 25 yards from goal. Jung Woo-Young stepped up to lash his shot beyond Kosuke Nakamura.
Japan’s back line was rattled and, with 10 minutes remaining in the half, they conceded again. Kim claimed his second of the half after Lee Jae-Sung drew the defence out with a run across the face of the penalty area before playing Kim into space to score.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s team continued to struggle in the second half, with Jung just millimetres away from claiming a second with a long range effort that left Nakamura diving in despair.
In the 69th minute, the Koreans claimed their fourth when substitute Yeom Ki-Hun slid his low free kick into the area before it was deflected over the line.
“I can’t say much about today’s game,” the former Algeria coach said. “Korea were much better than Japan. In terms of power and technique, the Korean squad amazed me how they could control the game. Korea’s performance was at a very high level.
“We were able to score the opening goal but after that our players stopped playing and South Korea gained revenge for the opening goal and were able to control the game.
“Korea showed us a high level, with power, agility, technique and game control. In everything, the Koreans were much better than Japan so the only thing I can do is praise the Korean side.”
China, meanwhile, took third overall with Wei Shihao scoring for the second time in three games as Marcello Lippi’s team were held to a 1-1 draw by North Korea.
Wei put China in front in the 28th minute when he calmly finished off a rapid-fire counter attack. Zhang Weizhao sprinted down the right wing before cutting the ball back for the Shanghai SIPG youngster to score.
The Chinese looked set to hold on to take all three points despite greater pressure from the North Koreans in the second half. But, with nine minutes to go, Jong Il Gwan’s free kick wrong-footed Wang Dalei in the China goal.
Wang redeemed himself to a degree five minutes later when he tipped Ri Un Chol’s long range shot over the bar.
Jong almost missed a late chance to claim all three points, leaving the North Koreans with just one point to finish bottom of the four-team tournament.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch