Saudis beat hosts to win Asian Cup

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The Independent Online
Saudi Arabia took full advantage of a loss of form by the 2002 World Cup co-hosts, Japan and South Korea, to win the Asian Cup for the third time in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. The Saudis beat the hosts, the United Arab Emirates, 4-2 on penalties in the final, having played 34 minutes of a goalless draw after extra time with 10 men.

Japan and South Korea were disappointing in a tournament that produced little evidence the continent was closing the gap on Latin America, Europe and Africa - both were knocked out at the quarter-final stage. Saudi Arabia added to the titles they won in 1984 and 1988, without capturing public imagination, thanks to winning penalty shoot-outs in their semi-final against Iran and in the final.

The hosts were one of the surprises of the championship, reaching the final after gutsy performances. What they lacked in skill and technical ability they made up for in physical strength and fighting spirit.

Iran, who won the title three times in a row between 1968 and 1976, achieved some success after 20 years in the wilderness. They were the most consistent team and boasted the finest strikers. Iran finished in third place after a 3-2 penalty shoot-out win over Kuwait.

Cesare Maldini's first game as coach of the Italian national side will be a friendly against Northern Ireland in Palermo, Sicily, on Wednesday 22 January.

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