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Tadanari Lee recalls 2011 Final high

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Kuala Lumpur: A cool January evening in Doha saw Japan lift their fourth AFC Asian Cup trophy after defeating Australia in extra time. Goalscorer Tadanari Lee remembers a historic moment for him and for the Samurai Blue.

Tadanari Lee may not have been the prolific goal scorer for Japan that Kunishige Kamamoto or Kazuyoshi Miura were, but having only registered two goals for his nation, he will always have a place in history books and in the memory of Japanese football fans.



The 2007 AFC Asian Cup was the first time the Samurai Blue failed to reach the final in two decades, so when the following edition rolled around, there was an unprecedented level of determination to make amends.

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Just four months before the start of the tournament, Alberto Zaccheroni was appointed to replace Takeshi Okada as national team head coach. The Italian set out to make drastic changes, starting with the introduction of a 3-4-3 formation.



One of the beneficiaries of Zaccheroni’s arrival was striker Tadanari Lee. The then 25-year-old Lee was having an impressive season in which he was the top scorer for Sanfrecce Hiroshima with 11 league goals.




Making your international debut is a dream moment in every player’s career, but to do so in the biggest continental competition was special for Lee, who was brought off the bench at half time to replace Ryoichi Maeda with his side trailing Jordan 1-0 in their 2011 AFC Asian Cup opener.



Japan needed an injury-time Maya Yoshida header to escape with a draw, but it was only upward from there for the Samurai Blue as Syria were brushed aside 2-1 before an impressive 5-0 defeat of arch-rivals Saudi Arabia in the final group stage match. Lee remained on the bench against Qatar in the quarter-finals and Korea Republic in the semis.




Not one to think about personal glory, Lee knew everyone would have to come together if Japan were to go all the way. His time in Hiroshima helped him learn this valuable lesson as he explains.



“I was playing at Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the time and there is a famous quote of a Japanese Shogun from Hiroshima. He said to his three sons, ‘It’s easy to snap one arrow, but it’s hard to snap three arrows together. You should cooperate with each other like three arrows’.



The long wait was finally over as Lee got his second cap eight minutes into extra time in the final. Australia had seen off Iraq and Uzbekistan en route to facing the Samurai Blue in the battle for the trophy, and both sides were unable to find the target in 90 minutes.




“I feinted to make my run to trick the defender and make space for myself inside the area,” said Lee, remembering the build up to the greatest moment of his footballing career.



Yuto Nagatomo had been a threat down the left flank all night, and once more he evaded his marker and sent a pinpoint cross to the far post. “When the ball reached me,” continues Lee, “I kicked it in a specific way, leaned my body, and allowed my standing leg to lift off the ground.”




It was not a mere coincidence for Lee to strike the winner in that fashion, though. “I did everything on purpose. I had practiced volleying with my Grandma as a young child of 10 or 11 years old,” he explains.



Re-watching the goal years later, a smile grows on his face, “I could talk about this goal forever. The technique of this volley was really beautiful. This is a kind of art. I would say it’s beautiful even if it wasn’t mine.



“If every second of it was captured in stop motion it would look beautiful. That’s why the ball travelled like it did and into the net.”

Travel into the net it did, as the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha erupted into a frantic sea of Blue. Lee’s first goal for the Samurai Blue had given his nation a historic AFC Asian Cup title. They had moved clear off IR Iran and Saudi Arabia as the continent’s most crowned side.



The three arrows would not be broken, the Hiroshima leader’s words echoed in Lee’s ear as he bent down on one knee and fired an imaginary arrow high into the Doha night sky to celebrate his most precious moment.

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