|Tough match: Nguyen Van Long (centre) of Viet Nam tries to overcome Japanese players during the final of the AFF U19 Nutifood Cup on Saturday. Invited Japan beat the hosts 1-0 to lift the gold medals. — VNA/VNS Photo Quoc Khanh
HA NOI (VNS) — Japan scored a hard-fought 1-0 win over Viet Nam in the championship game of the ASEAN Football Federation U19 Nutifood Cup here on Saturday.
Omotehara Genta emerged as Japan's supersub when his strike in the second half gave them the victory.
The Vietnamese fans thronged to the venue hours before the start of the match with high expectations that Viet Nam would win their first title after three straight finals match appearances.
But in spite of the numerous opportunites they created, the host team failed to muster enough energy for the final push in the last quarter of the pitch.
Facing Viet Nam's strongest continental rival, Coach Guillaume Graechen from France brought his strongest line-up to the field, with Nguyen Tuan Anh and Luong Xuan Truong engaging in a midfield battle against counterparts Ideguchi Yosuke and Sakai Daisuke. The game was fought well and hard at the centre of the park.
Vietnamese captain Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Van Toan, a miracle duo for the team in recent tournaments, co-operated with each other on the front line.
With overwhelming support from more than 40,000 loud and boisterous fans at the stadium, they created massive attack opportunities against the Japanese in the first half but could not find a way to slip through their opponent's tough defence and penetrate the well-protected goal.
The Japanese, who had remained unbeaten throughout the tournament, were the overwhelming favourites in the second half when host playmaker Phuong was closely shackled, though Toan and Anh managed to gain some leeway into the Japanese box.
As the clock began ticking, the entry of Omotehara in the 69th minute became pivotal, and five minutes later, he unleashed a stiff grounder to beat Viet Nam's keeper, Le Van Truong.
"It was a hard-fought game. We were evenly matched, but I thought that we had that little extra edge we needed for today's victory," Japanese coach Suzuki Masakazu was quoted as saying on the AFF website.
"It has been a fantastic tournament, and we are thankful to the AFF for this opportunity to test our players," said Masakazu, who also expressed appreciation for Viet Nam's rapid advance in such a short time.
Graechen said his team exerted strong effort but could not defeat Japan in their second meeting in this tournament. He noted that the Japanese were not playing at a higher level but were just a few steps ahead of Viet Nam.
"In the final game, they showed a better and tougher mindset and effectively controlled their plays," Graechen said, adding that this game would help Viet Nam to catch up with Japan, although some things needed to be done, especially regarding the players' physique.
He apologised to the fans for the team's third consecutive loss in three straight finals matches and said his young players would prove their power in the coming Asian championships next month in Myanmar, where both Viet Nam and Japan are participants.
In the day's earlier match, Thailand placed third after beating Myanmar, 1-0, with Patipan Pinsermsootsri scoring the game's only goal in the 90th minute. — VNS