Well that ended up being far too easy for South Korea. The bronze medal game of the London 2012 Olympics was supposed to be very tightly contested between two well-organised (and mildly belligerent) teams, and that exactly what it was -- until Park Chu-Young pulled off one of the individual goals of the tournament to give South Korea a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute. After that, we saw a classic match of attack-counterattack, and another clinical finish, this time by Koo Ja-Cheol wrapped up the match to seal bronze for South Korea.
The final score would have been something of a surprise to anyone who watched the first half of the match. South Korea were defending reasonably well, but Japan were obviously in control and should probably have gone ahead when Hiroki Sakai found himself unmarked on a corner. Instead, his 37th minute header flashed just wide of Jung Sung-Ryong's right-hand post.
It didn't look like Japan would regret the miss too much. South Korea have promised an exemption to mandatory military service for any male medalists, and they played like they wanted that perhaps too much. A spate of unpleasant fouls was their biggest contribution to the match -- referee Ravshan Irmatov issued three yellow cards in the first 35 minutes, and he was being lenient.
Everything changed, however, when Park raced onto a long ball up the pitch. He wasn't behind the defence by any means. Three blue shirts stood between the young Arsenal forward and Shuichi Gonda's goal. But Park simply glided through them as though they weren't there, cutting outside before blasting in a shot at the near post. Could Gonda have done better? Certainly. Should the Japanese defence ever have let him shoot there? No. A series of defensive meltdowns cost Japan against Mexico after what had been a great tournament from them, and this was another example.
Japan pushed for the equaliser, but that played into South Korea's hands. They were able to defend effectively and counterattack, and with their lead suddenly Japan's ability to keep possession wasn't too much of a problem -- they had difficulty penetrating the Korean defence, and their desperation for a goal meant that the defence ended up too high up the pitch.
They were punished for this around the hour mark. Koo raced forward on the counterattack, holding off the defender, and then pulling the trigger while under heavy pressure. His shot wasn't perfectly placed, but it was good enough to squirm past Gonda and sneak into the back of the net to give South Korea a 2-0 lead, putting Japan in a real hole.
South Korea nearly made it 3-0 moments later when Kim Bok-Young sent in a brilliant long-range effort that beat Gonda and then cracked off the post. Despite Japan needing goals, they never really looked like they were going for it, generating virtually nothing in the way of chances for the entire second half. The closest they came was on a corner, which saw Maya Yoshida head into the back of the net -- after Yuki Otsu had fouled Jung, leaving his captain with an open goal. The goal was rightly disallowed.
Time ticked down, and it was abundantly clear that Japan were toast. Up until this match, it hadn't been a great tournament for South Korea. One win from five matches was hardly a good return, but they've managed to medal anyway. Japan were perhaps unfortunate to be stung by Park's goal, but ultimately they simply weren't good enough to deserve anything from the match today.
The gold medal game between Mexico and Brazil will be contested on Saturday.