Australia's excuse for loss to Japan just 'hot air'

Japan reached the AFC Asian Cup 2007 semi-finals Saturday when Yuji Nakazawa calmly slotted the winning penalty kick to give the defending champions a 4-3 shoot-out victory over fierce rivals Australia in Hanoi, Vietnam. The score was tied 1-1 at the end of 30 minutes of extra time with Australia down to 10 men after Vince Grella's controversial sending off in the 76th minute. Australian fans were shocked when their Liverpool forward Harry Kewell, missed the first penalty in the shoot-out followed by one equally astray from West Ham's Lucas Neill. Nakazawa described how he secured the game for Japan as vengeance for Australia's 3-1 World Cup defeat over Japan. "I made sure I hit it hard. I didn't want him to be able to save it even if he guessed right so I whacked it. I missed one at the last Asian Cup in 2004 but I was very cool this time. There were a lot of emotions for me because it was Australia," he said.

Australia coach Graham Arnold said the Socceroos should be proud of their performance at their first Asian Cup despite falling well short of their lofty expectations. Arnold had predicted before the tournament that the Australians could win the championship and anything less than reaching the final would be regarded as a failure. "The whole of Australia should be very proud of the players, they gave everything they had. To play against a quality team like Japan, with 10 men in these conditions is just murder. Japan played very well, they've got some quality players but they didn't really dominate us. Tactically we were ready for them and we had some opportunities but it just didn't go in."

Arnold and some players weirdly commented on how the topical conditions in South East Asia had affected them more than Japan. "Everyone's down, everyone's upset. To lose in such a way is hard but we have to learn from this," striker John Aloisi said. "It won't be easy but I'm sure the boys will learn. You also have to remember we played the Asian champions in conditions they are more used to and we were unlucky to lose." In the real world, of course, East Asian heavyweights Japan, South Korea and most of China are nowhere near the tropics and experience colder conditions than Australia and even England, where many of the stars of those teams play.

Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer put the Socceroos' effort into better perspective when he said the AFC Asian Cup had been an eyeopener "I think people underestimate how big Asia really is and how many people are playing football, how big the game is regarded in this part of the world," the Middlesbrough star, said. "I'm a little-bit wide-eyed about how good some of the performances have been from some of the players from some of the teams like Uzbekistan and Iran so far. They are good-quality teams and they'll give any team a good run for their money. I think a lot of players will have a great chance to succeed in England as well," he said.

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