UAE footballers edged out by Japan in Asian Games semi-finals
The UAE’s quest for football gold at the Asian Games came to an end on Wednesday, when they lost narrowly to Japan in the semi-final in Indonesia.
The Under 23 side were outdone at the Pakansari Stadium in West Java by Ayase Ueda's goal 12 minutes from time, and could not find a way back into the encounter to eventually lose 1-0.
However, the UAE’s hopes of a medal remain intact. On Saturday, they take on Vietnam in the match for bronze after the South East Asians were beaten 3-1 by South Korea earlier on Wednesday.
Should they win this weekend, Maciej Skorza’s team will become only the second UAE side to claim a medal at the Asian Games. In 2010, Mahdi Ali’s celebrated group took silver.
In truth, the match against Japan always represented a tall order for the UAE, given their arduous road to the semi-final. They required penalties-shootout victories in the previous two rounds to reach this stage, first against hosts Indonesia and then against North Korea.
The latter match was played on Monday, whereas Japan came through their quarter-final clash with Saudi Arabia on the same day in normal time.
And so it proved on Wednesday, with the UAE finally succumbing to Japanese pressure late in the second half. In the 78th minute, the ball found its way to substitute forward Ueda, who finished high past goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi. Ueda did likewise in the last-16 game against Malaysia, when he came off the bench to net the winner.
Japan will now play South Korea in Saturday’s final, where Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min will be attempting to land gold to avoid compulsory military service.
The Koreans were too strong for Vietnam in their last-four match at the Pakansari Stadium on Wednesday, going 3-0 up before an hour had even been played. Two goals from Lee Seung-woo - Son created the second - and one from Hwang Ui-jo paved the way towards a comfortable victory, although Vietnam did pull a goal back with 20 minutes remaining through Tran Minh Vuong’s free-kick.
The result means Son stays on course to steer clear of military service. Under South Korean law, all men have to carry out 21 months of military service before the age of 28 and the Spurs star, who turned 26 last month, had been edging closer to returning home.
Yet winning gold at the Asian Games earns South Korean sportsmen an exemption, as does any Olympic medal.
Speaking afterwards, Son said: “We are so close to gold. We fight for that. I don’t need to say anything, I am ready for that. We deserved to win, we had lots of chances to score. I think we are better players so we dominated the game.”
Son was given special dispensation by Spurs to take part in the Asian Games. He featured as a late substitute in the London club’s opening Premier League game of the season, at Newcastle United on August 11, but then flew to Indonesia to join up with his national team.
Son will miss South Korea's first two matches at the 2019 Asian Cup, which takes place in in January in the UAE, under a compromise agreed between Spurs and the Korean Football Association to release him for the Asian Games.
Son has emerged as one of the English club's key players, scoring 47 goals in 140 appearances to become the top Asian scorer in Premier League history. Last month, he signed a new deal keeping him at Spurs until 2023.