Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was the hero for defending champions Japan as they eliminated Australia 4-3 in a penalty shootout to progress to the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup.
Kawaguchi saved from both Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill as Japan’s quest for a third successive Asian Cup title stayed alive with Yuji Nakazawa scored the winning penalty emphatically past Mark Schwarzer.
The Japanese rekindled memories of their last appearance in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, when they knocked out Jordan in similar fashion before going on to win the title. Ivica Osim's side will now take on either Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan in the semi-final next Wednesday in Hanoi.
It was a brave performance, though, from the Australians who played the entire extra-time period with just 10 men after Vince Grella was sent off 14 minutes from the end of normal time.
The score at that stage was 1-1 after John Aloisi’s 70th minute opener was cancelled out less than two minutes later when Naohiro Takahara struck from close range.
Aloisi scored for the Socceroos with just 20 minutes to go when he pushed home a corner from substitute Kewell after the ball had somehow managed to cross the six-yard box untouched.
But Australia’s lead lasted less than two minutes when Takahara capitalised on Mark Milligan’s miss-hit clearance before turning and firing past Schwarzer, via the goalkeeper’s right post.
Japan’s hopes of progressing improved further as time was running out when referee Kuwaiti Saad Khameel Al Fadhli sent midfielder Grella off when he hit Takahara in the face with a flailing arm as both went up for a header, but Osim’s team were unable to take full advantage.
Not surprisingly, the champions controlled possession but they lacked the creativity to breach the tightly packed Australian defence.
The game went into extra-time but the Australians put up a dogged defence and successfully kept the Japanese at bay, even though there was a scare for the Socceroos with just seconds remaining.
A lofted cross into the penalty area was met by Shunsuke Nakamura’s flying volley, but Schwarzer’s reflex save to his right kept the ball out and took the game into a penalty shootout.
Kawaguchi guessed correctly to deny Kewell and Neill while Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo converted successfully before Tim Cahill put Australia on the board.
Yuichi Komano made it 3-1 and Nicky Carle kept Australia alive with his spot kick. The pressure increased on Japan when Takahara put his effort over the bar and when David Carney scored that left Nakazawa to go head-to-head with Schwarzer.
The veteran defender, however, was equal to the task to send Japan into the semi-finals once again.