Japan beat Uzbekistan to become first two-time champions of AFC U-23 Asian Cup

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Japan have become the first two-time champions of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup after beating Uzbekistan 1-0 in a thrilling final at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on Friday evening.

In a keenly-contested affair between one of the continent's heavyweights in Japan and the tournament's in-form side Uzbekistan, who had conceded 14 goals while conceding none from five wins ahead of the final, both sides were unable to find a breakthrough in the 90 minutes -- but drama was to follow just as extra-time beckoned.

In the first minute of injury-time, the deadlock was finally broken when Uzbekistan lost possession just inside their own half to allow Japan to quickly hit forward, where a delightful flick from Ryotaro Araki would release Fuki Yamada to drill a precise low effort past Abduvohid Nematov into the bottom corner.

But nine minutes later, the Uzbeks had the perfect opportunity to pull level when they were awarded a penalty for handball upon VAR review -- only for Japan goalkeeper Leo Kokubo to pull off a fine save to deny Umarali Rakhmonaliev and preserve the win -- and the crown -- for his team.

After the past five editions of the U-23 Asian Cup were all won by different teams, Japan have now set a new record of two titles following on from their previous triumph in 2016, while Uzbekistan -- champions themselves in 2018 -- have now suffered the disappointment of losing two finals in a row, having been beaten by Saudi Arabia in the decider two years ago.

For his role in leading the Samurai Blue to the crown, captain Joel Chima Fujita was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player while Nematov took home the Best Goalkeeper award after conceding just once all tournament long, which -- unfortunately for him and his side -- was the crucial one in the final.

Iraq's Ali Jassim took home the Golden Boot following a four-goal tally, with the decisive strike that took him clear of the chasing pack also the effort which earned his team automatic qualification for the men's football tournament at this year's Olympic Games -- following their 2-1 victory over Indonesia in Thursday's third-place playoff.