|Well deserved: Japanese players and coaching staff celebrate after successfully defending their title at the Asian Futsal Championships, defeating Iran 3-0 in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw. — VNS Photo Tien Thanh
HCM CITY (VNS) — Goalkeeper Sekiguchi Yushi became Japan's hero when he blocked three penalty shots to help his team beat Iran 3-0 during the penalty shootout in the final of the Asian Football Confederation Futsal Championships, which wrapped up on Saturday night.
While Nibuya Kazuhiro, Yoshikawa Tomoki and Akira Minamoto kicked perfect shots in the three first penalties, giving Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Sammi, who had had an easy job in front of the goal until the final, no chance.
Iran, which was the better of the two teams in terms of possessions and number of goal-scoring chances, performed poorly as the team failed to beat keeper Sekiguchi on all three attempts.
Sekiguchi used his hands and legs to turn away shots from Iran's captain, Mohammad Taheri, as well as players Ghodrat Bahadori and Asghar Hassanzadeh.
The match came down to the penalty shootout after the two teams drew 1-1, with goals from Inaba Kotaro for Japan and Farhad Tavakoli for Iran in the regular time, and was locked in a 2-2 draw in the extra time after goals from Hossein Tayebi and an a goal from Hadmid Amahdi. Sekiguchi did an excellent job throughout the match.
With this victory, Japan successfully defended the title they won two years ago in United Arab Emirates, and this third title has become more meaningful because this was the first time they defeated ten-time champions Iran, to whom they lost in the last five finals.
Iran's Tayebi was given the title of the top scorer, with 15 goals, while the award for the most valuable player of the tournament went to another Iranian player, Asghar Hassanzadeh. Japan received the fair play award.
"It was a great match, an even match with both teams having chances to win. I talked to my players, saying this game is like a movie between Portuguese Rocky Balboa and Russian Ivan Drago, both having great weapons, hard punchers and one is still knocked out," Japan's Spanish coach, Miguel Rodrigo, said during the post-match press conference.
"We have to be Rocky Balboa today, stay strong on our feet and stand against the hard punches from Drago until the moment he has stumbled, and still find out how we can defeat this man," the Spaniard said.
Goalkeeper Sekiguchi had his best performance of the tournament tonight and many fans, who spoke non-stop about Japan's incredible resilience and about the goalkeeper's influence in his team's victory over Iran.
"He was superb in the match and he gave everything because he is only 20 years old. He is Japan's futsal hope and future, in terms of goalkeeping," Rodrigo said, after being asked about his goalkeeper's performance.
"Sekiguchi has experience in playing futsal in the Grand Prix competition in Brazil and the Asian Indoor Games in South Korea. So I'm not too surprised at his performance tonight," said Rodrigo, who now has his first Asian title with Japan.
He also picked out Viet Nam, Kuwait and China as potential teams that will be able to compete against Japan and Iran in the future.
"Viet Nam is working hard and possesses a lot of young players. China is also growing and has foreign players in their professional league. Of course, Kuwait and Thailand are giving their young players the opportunity to grow," Rodrigo said.
Previously, in the third place play-off, Rakhmatov Dilshod and Abdumavlyanov Farkhod each scored one goal to help Uzbekistan overcome Kuwait 2-1. Hamad Alawadhi scored the only goal for Kuwait.
"Kuwait played very well today and I respect this team a lot. They showed us they are one of the best teams in Asia, causing a lot of difficulties for us," Uzbekistan's coach, Ahmedov Bahodir, said during the post-match press conference.
"I would also like to thank all my players. I am happy because this is the first time I've won a medal in futsal," he added. — VNS