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South Korea beat Japan to maintain gold medal streak at Asian Games

South Korea’s players celebrate after winning the match as Japan’s players react near them during the 2022 Asian Games at Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium, Hangzhou, China on October 7, 2023. — Reuters

During the Asian Games men’s football final on Saturday, South Korea fought back to overcome Japan 2-1, winning a third straight gold medal in the competition and earning its players a highly sought-after exemption from mandatory military duty.

Lee Kang In, who joined Paris St Germain (PSG) from Spanish side Mallorca started against Japan but Korea found themselves a goal down after less than two minutes.

They levelled midway through the first half through Stuttgart forward Jeong Woo-yeong — his tournament-leading eighth goal — before Cho Young-wook struck the winner 10 minutes after the break.

While the historic win marked the team’s third gold medal in Asian Games football in a row, it was also a meaningful one for the team for a different reason.

The win secures South Korea’s entire 22-man squad exemptions from the country’s compulsory military service, enhancing their chances of a prolonged career in the game’s leading leagues in Europe, Reuters reported.

Additionally, PSG’s attacking midfielder Lee Kang In, was granted a leave pass from the French club to compete at the Games.

The exemption from mandatory military service means Lee can expand his career in other countries, following in the footsteps of Tottenham forward Son Heung Min, who won gold in Jakarta in 2018 and was also exempted from compulsory military service.

Coach Hwang said the exemption was “very different from playing football” and has high hopes for Lee’s future, AFP reported.

“As long as the player has the Taeguk Warriors emblem on his shirt, he has the right and responsibility to play for Korea and play for its glory,” he said. “I am expecting his future success.”

Japan took the lead when Uchino slotted in his early strike after Kein Sato had outsprinted the defence to find Masato Shigemi, who fed Uchino to score.

South Korea’s Cho and Jung Ho Yeon both tried their luck before Jeong levelled the scores in the 27th minute, rising above Manato Yoshida to nod in a cross from Hwang Jae Won.

Fullback Hwang was also involved in the winner, cutting through the Japanese defence to lay possession off to Jeong whose touch allowed Cho to put his side ahead.

Moreover, Uzbekistan won the bronze medal earlier in the day, with Khusain Norchaev scoring twice as the Central Asians handed Hong Kong a 4-0 defeat.

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