Australia bow out in penalty shootout heartbreak

Australia’s Asian Cup campaign has come to a gut-wrenching end after losing in a penalty shoot-out 4-3 to Japan, after scores were locked at 1-1 at the end of extra time in Hanoi.

Australia-s Asian Cup campaign has come to a gut-wrenching end after losing in a penalty shoot-out 4-3 to Japan, after scores were locked at 1-1 at the end of extra time in Hanoi.

Having battled gamely with 10-men following Vince Grella-s 76th minute send-off, Japanese keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was the hero, saving Australia-s first two penalties from Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill, which had his team firmly in the box seat. Yuji Nakazawa converted his spot kick to seal their place in the semi finals and exact some revenge for the World Cup defeat of last year.

It was a match that Australia let slip away having taken a 70th minute lead through John Aloisi only to relinquish it a minute later, through another defensive error, this time from the unfortunate Mark Milligan.

But the pivotal moment came with 15 minutes remaining when Grella went up for a header with his arm raised, which caught Takahara in the head. To Grella-s surprise the Kuwaiti referee instantly showed him a red card for a swinging elbow, which can only be considered harsh, as Grella only had eyes for the ball and wouldn-t have even seen Takahara who was coming from behind him.

From that point on it was backs to the wall for Australia and really ended the match as a contest, with the Japanese dominating possession, although for the rest of normal time and extra time, Mark Schwarzer was never really tested.

That was until the last minute of extra time when Schwarzer pulled off a magnificent reflex save to deny Shunsuke Nakamura and that meant the game went to penalties.

It was a gutsy effort by the 10-men Australian team, but the penalty shootout heroics of 2005 was not to be repeated, as Kewell mistimed his spot kick to make it easy for Kawaguchi and he then went the right way to push away Neill-s kick.

It perhaps should never have got that far though when Aloisi put Australia ahead with 20 minutes to go, when he was able to tuck home a low corner by Kewell at the back post that somehow got through a sea of legs.

But they often say the most critical time is after just scoring and so that proved for Australia.

A Japanese cross was headed back into the middle and Milligan made a hash of his clearance, which allowed Takahara to swivel and shoot home off the post.

The match itself never reached any great heights, with the even hotter and more humid conditions in Hanoi taking its toll on both sets of players.

Japan looked the better team when with the ball, but found Australia-s defence much tougher to crack than any of their group opponents.

The match started positively for Australia, with Sydney FC midfielder David Carney getting involved early down the left.

However it was Japan that had the first chance of the match after 9 minutes, with Maki heading just wide of Mark Schwarzer-s near post.

Australia-s first chance came via captain Mark Viduka after 11 minutes, when he twisted and turned Endo 20 metres out, but hit shot went straight to Kawaguchi.

Viduka was almost in again, when he showed great touch to dink a long throw to his advantage, but just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was denied by great cover tackle by Nakazawa. Soon after he saw a Carney corner skim off his head, wide of far post.

Japan then had a period of domination, where their patient build-ups produced shots for Endo and Takahara, the first scrambled away by Schwarzer, while the latter spooned over the top from close range.

The Socceroos however then picked up control in the final five minutes of the half and had the Japanese scrambling in the dying minutes, when Emerton burst into the box, but his pass was cleared away.

The second half started brightly for Japan, with Schwarzer making a great save to deny Kenjo Nakamura two minutes after the break, who made an inch of space for himself on the edge of the box.

Clear cut chances after that were rare until Aloisi-s goal sparked the game to life.

Australia coach Graham Arnold was full of praise for the players courage and the way they fought it out in the difficult conditions.

“I am proud of their performance, it was a huge effort by the boys,” he said, straight after the match. “Australia should be very proud, it was not easy in these conditions.”

Asked what he thought of Grella-s send-off, Arnold said, “I don-t agree with it, we didn-t get any decisions go our way.”

Match Details

Australia 1 (John Aloisi 70-) Japan 1 (Naohiro Takahara 71-) Japan wins 4-3 on penalties

Australian line-up: Mark Schwarzer (gk); Lucas Neill, Jason Culina, Michael Beauchamp, Brett Emerton, Mark Viduka (Harry Kewell 60-), Vince Grella, John Aloisi (Nick Carle 82-), David Carney, Mark Milligan, Mark Bresciano (Tim Cahill 71-)

Cautions: Aloisi (34), Kewell (65-), Carney (81-) Red Cards: Grella (76-)