Yoichiro Kakitani’s injury-time goal secured Japan’s first East Asian Cup triumph with a 2-1 victory over South Korea on Sunday.
China had beaten Australia 4-3 earlier in the day, meaning a 1-1 draw between Japan and the hosts would have bizarrely seen the tournament settled on a disciplinary tie-break.
However, Kakitani struck twice, including a 91st-minute winner, at Jamsil Olympic Stadium to ensure Alberto Zaccheroni’s men finished top of the four-team competition by two points from China, with South Korea third and winless Australia in last spot.
After seeing off some early pressure, Japan took the lead in the 25th minute through Kakitani, who beat the offside trap, collected a hopeful long ball from Toshihiro Aoyama and finished well past Jung Sung-Ryong.
It took just eight minutes for South Korea to hit back, Yun Illok cutting inside and firing a brilliant, curling effort over Shusaku Nishikawa from distance.
There were few chances of note in the remainder of the half as the wet playing surface took its toll on proceedings.
Yojiro Takahagi almost played Kakitani through on goal 15 minutes into the second half, but South Korea managed to smuggle the ball to safety.
Lee Seung-Gi was played in behind Japan’s backline five minutes later, but miscontrolled at the crucial moment, allowing Nishikawa to gather.
It looked very much as if the decisive goal would not arrive, raising the prospect of a tally of the yellow and red cards picked up by China and Japan being the determining factor in who would take home the title.
However, Kakitani had other ideas, following in Genki Haraguchi’s shot from a quick counter-attack and steering a confident finish beyond a stranded Jung, prompting wild celebrations among the Japanese players and substitutes.
That goal saw Kakitani finish the competition as leading scorer, while Japan lifted the title for the first time in five attempts since the tournament’s inception in 2003.