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Riffa: Coach Atsushi Uchiyama praised his players and admitted they had their share of good fortune as Japan claimed the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship with a 5-3 penalty shootout win over Saudi Arabia at the Bahrain National Stadium on Sunday.

Koki Ogawa scored the winning penalty in the fifth round of spot kicks to give Japan the continental crown after Abdullah Magrshi had put his effort over Ryosuke Kojima’s bar following 120 minutes of scoreless play.

The title is Japan’s first in the competition and comes after six previous appearances in the final had ended in defeat.

“Even before the match I knew it would be difficult and it was a really tough game,” said Uchiyama. “It could have gone either way, but we had a little bit more luck and that’s how it is. The players did well after playing six games and I’m very proud of my players and really happy that we won.”

Japan went through the entire competition without conceding a goal, but Uchiyama was quick to stress that his team’s success did not just lie with their defensive discipline and organisation.

“When I started with this team we had a lot of games where we made mistakes and gave up some easy goals to our opponents, but finally the players are starting to understand what I want them to do exactly and we are starting to have good balance in the team,” he said.

“It’s not just the defence, it’s the attack too. They are start starting to understand the system. We had many friendly games against good teams and from experiencing those games against good opponents they have learned a lot and that’s one of the reasons why we had a good team together at the end.”

Japan’s win in the AFC U-19 Champions comes just nine months after the country claimed the AFC U23 Championship crown in Qatar in January, highlighting once again the work being done at youth level within the nation.

Uchiyama stressed that this success was the result of a number of years of development work and the country’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2020 was a long-term target for Japanese football.

“It’s difficult to have a quick result in youth development,” he said. “You have to spend a lot of time to get good results and this year by winning AFC U23 and AFC U-19 Championships we are finally proving the development programme in Japan is good.

“But it’s not the end, we have to keep on doing it. It’s part of a long term programme.

“I think we can only see the players’ improvement when we face tough opponents and experience serious, difficult games. Today we saw that Saudi Arabia are a really good side and we had a tough game against them and it’s by experiencing those games that we can see the players improving.

“For the future, for the players who will be playing in the Olympics and other international competitions, this is good for them. You always have to have in mind that you can still improve and you have to keep challenging and if we can keep doing that we will see more improvements.”

Photos: AFC