By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea dropped to Japan 2-1 in the final match of the East Asian Cup on Sunday, a result that gave Japan its first title at the regional tournament.
Yoichiro Kakitani scored both goals for Japan, his second one coming in the dying moments of the match, as South Korea wrapped up the tournament without a victory.
Japan finished with seven points, two ahead of China. Earlier on Sunday, China defeated Australia 4-3 to improve to five points.
South Korea ended the tournament with one loss and two draws, while Australia finished with a draw and two losses.
South Korea and China had split the first two East Asian Cups, while Japan had been the runner-up three times.
South Koreans dominated the ball early but had little to show for their advantage in possession in the opening 20 minutes.
Holding its ground against South Korea's pressure, Japan took the lead in the 24th on a breakaway. Toshihiro Aoyama floated a pass from his own end to send Kakitani deep into the South Korean zone, and the striker won the footrace over three South Korean defenders and beat goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong for the 1-0 lead.
South Korea tied the score eight minutes later, getting its first goal of the tournament in its third game. Yun Il-lok and Lee Seung-gi had a nifty give-and-go at the top of the box, before Yun struck the ball into the top right corner, past the diving Shusaku Nishikawa in the Japanese net.
The two sides were evenly matched in the second half, but there was no serious chance on either end until the taut final stretch.
Finally, Kakitani sealed the deal for Japan in injury time, pouncing on a rebound after Jung made a save on Genki Haraguchi.
South Korea made frantic efforts to tie the match. Hong Jeong-ho nearly scored on a header in with Nishikawa caught out of position, but a Japanese player put his head on the ball before it crossed the goal line.
Hong Myung-bo, the South Korean head coach, said despite the loss, his players gave all they had.
"Though we didn't score a lot of goals in the tournament, I think we did a good job of creating chances on offense," he said. "But our players couldn't manage the game properly, and that problem was exposed in tonight's game. This game should have ended in a 1-1 draw."
The match had some tense moments from the stands at the onset. South Korean fans booed the start of the Japanese anthem and later hung a huge banner that read, in Korean, "There is no future for people who have forgotten their past." The words were apparently aimed at the Japanese leaders' reluctance to admit to wrongdoings during its militaristic and colonial past. The banner was removed after the first half.
After the banner was taken down, "Red Devils," a group of South Korean football supporters, refused to cheer on the national team in the second half. On its Facebook page, the Seoul sector of the Red Devils wrote that its members would not bang drums or chant songs for South Korea in protest of the decision by the Korea Football Association (KFA), the country's football governing body, to remove the banner.
A KFA official later said he couldn't immediately confirm whether KFA officials had indeed forced fans to take down the banner.
Also, a group of Japanese fans waved the Rising Sun Flag, a symbol of Japan's militarism and imperialism that South Koreans find offensive. The flag disappeared after a few minutes.
Earlier Sunday, China scored three times in the second half and hung on for dear life as Australia scored two late goals. Seven different players found the back of the net in the match.