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(Asian Cup) S. Korea takes on archrival Japan in semis

All Headlines 10:42 January 24, 2011

SEOUL, Jan. 24 (Yonhap) -- After winning a 120-minute thriller against Iran in the quarterfinals, South Korea is facing an old foe in the semifinal for its first Asian Cup title in half a century.

Japan has been waiting for the semifinal showdown with South Korea, scheduled for 10:25 p.m. Tuesday (Korean time), after grabbing their ticket to the match with a come-from-behind victory over host Qatar in the quarterfinals.

Although Japan stands at 29th, compared with South Korea's 39th, in the FIFA world rankings, the rivalry has led to different stories in football -- South Korea marks 40 wins, 21 draws and 12 losses in head-to-head records against Japan with no defeats in the last five encounters.

"I know Japan has improved a lot in all aspects," said South Korea's head coach Cho Kwang-rae. "But I've never been afraid of Japan as a player or as a leader."

The semifinal showdown will be the second straight meeting between the two neighboring countries at the Asian Cup. South Korea beat Japan in a penalty shoot-out in a third-place playoff in 2007.

The key point of Tuesday's match will be fatigue, as both teams had tough quarterfinal matches and have only had two or three days to rest before the semifinals.

South Korea played a full 120 minutes against Iran on Sunday, and 10-man Japan had to run the five-goal game against the host country.

But South Korea's young players vowed to stand at the forefront to defeat their rival and bring home their first Asian Cup title in 50 years.

Indeed, all eight goals that the country has scored through the group round and the quarterfinals have been made by young players in their early 20s.

Midfielder Koo Ja-cheol, 21, scored four goals in four games, leading the scorers list of the tournament. Striker Ji Dong-won, 20, earned two goals, and teenager Son Heung-min also scored a goal.

Yoon Bitgaram, 21, made the winning goal in the quarterfinal match against Iran.

"I played pretty well in a friendly with Japan last year. It will be a close game as the two teams know each other well, and I expect a good game," said Yoon, who made his debut with the national squad last year after Cho took the helm of the team in July.

Meanwhile, some veteran players will display their fighting spirit in supporting the young players and winning their first Asian Cup in 50 years.

Manchester United winger Park Ji-sung had announced his retirement from the national team before the Asian Cup kicked off, and Lee Young-pyo of Saudi's Al Hilal also said he would step down from the squad after the tournament.

"I always bear in mind that this is my last international match as a national team player," Lee said after the quarterfinals. "South Korea is one of the strongest football powerhouses in Asia but has no championship title. I'm determined to win the title."

For Park, the semifinal match will make him a member of the "FIFA Century Club," a group of football players who have appeared in at least 100 full international matches.

"I've come here to win the Asian Cup and it will be interesting to meet Japan, in a way, to the final," said Park. "I'm anxious to advance to the final."

brk@yna.co.kr
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