SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — An Asian soccer rivalry like no other is starting to get one-sided.
South Korea have beaten Japan 42 times and lost only 16 matches. But Japan have won their last two matches against regional opponents by 3-0 score lines in the past 18 months, including one match this week in Japan.
When Japan made their first World Cup appearance in 1998, South Korea were playing their fifth tournament. The South Koreans reached the semi-finals in 2002 when the two countries co-hosted and remain the best performance of any Asian team at the World Cup.
In 2018, however, Japan qualified for the round of 16 while South Korea failed to progress from group play.
In March 2021, Japan beat their rivals 3-0 in Yokohama and they repeated that feat at Toyota on Wednesday in the East Asian Championships, clearly superior in both games. And it’s not just the senior team – a June encounter at the Asian Under-23 Championships saw Japan win 3-0 once again.
“Nowadays Japanese players don’t have complexes about Korea or feel psychologically inferior,” Japanese coach Hajime Moriyasu said when asked after Wednesday’s game if the country had overcome his stigma against South Korea.
Japanese media weren’t too thrilled with the win which gave the host nation seven points and first place at the East Asian Championships which also featured China and Hong Kong.
“It wasn’t a satisfying win because Korea were too weak,” Soccer Digest said.
South Korean coach Paulo Bento said the loss was the result of defensive mistakes and preferred not to talk about the rivalry between the teams.
“It is dangerous to compare only with Japan because each country’s environment, situation and training methods are different,” he said.
Comparisons are inevitable, however, between the two most successful footballing nations in Asia. With both teams lacking in Europe-based stars, Wednesday’s encounter was largely between J-League and K-League players.
Japan, fielding a less experienced team, won comfortably.
Although South Korea has the biggest Asian star in Son Heung-min, who won the English Premier League’s Golden Boot award as top scorer with Tottenham Hotspur last season, Japan can name a comprehensive roster filled with players based in Europe.
And domestically, the J-League is booming with 20,751 pre-pandemic attendance in 2019, more than double its South Korean counterpart.
Regardless of recent results and declining attendance, South Korean defender Kim Jin-su is confident that Asia’s most successful World Cup side will be able to turn things around before the start of the FIFA World Cup. November in Qatar.
Japan plays in Group E with Germany, Costa Rica and Spain. South Korea are in Group H with Uruguay, Ghana and Portugal.
“Of course we are worried (about Japan’s loss) but there is still time to prepare for the World Cup,” Kim said.
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