HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hwang In-beom’s first-half goal ensured South Korea retained the East Asian Championship title with a 1-0 victory over Japan in Busan on Wednesday.
The win was the third in a row for Paulo Bento’s side following victories over China and Hong Kong earlier in the competition and means the Koreans have successfully defended the title they won in Japan two years ago.
South Korea went into the tournament as favourites after Bento picked a strong squad, despite the absence of key Europe-based players such as Son Heung-min.
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu picked a line-up that featured several of the home-based players expected to represent the country at next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo and the lack of experience told.
The visitors’ defence struggled to handle the aerial prowess of Kim Min-jae and Kim Young-gwon at set-pieces, although it was from open play that the Koreans took the lead in the 28th minute.
Ju Se-jong’s run towards the penalty area drew in the Japanese and, as he laid the ball off to Hwang, the Vancouver Whitecaps striker had the time and space to beat Japan goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura from the edge of the area.
Hwang’s goal was enough to earn the Koreans all three points and seal a record fifth East Asian title since the competition began in 2003 and their third in a row.
Earlier in the day, China secured third place as Li Tie’s side beat Hong Kong 2-0 having lost to both Japan and South Korea earlier in the tournament.
Ji Xiang gave China the lead eight minutes into the game when he headed home from close range after the Hong Kong defence failed to clear a corner by Zhang Xizhe.
Beijing Guoan midfielder Zhang added the second from the penalty spot 19 minutes from time following a foul by Helio on Dong Xuesheng.
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Radnedge