BEIJING, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Holders Japan overcame bitter rivals China 3-1 in a highly-charged final to win the Asian Cup for the third time on Saturday.
Chinese fans vented their fury at the final whistle after Japan scored twice in a controversial second half, one group of several hundred hurling bottles and burning Japanese flags.
Koji Nakata had given Japan a 2-1 lead in the 65th minute with a hotly-disputed goal, the midfielder bundling in a Shunsuke Nakamura corner though replays showed he had used his hand.
Keiji Tamada added a fine solo goal in injury time to give the scoreline a flattering look for Japan after a tension-filled match laced with political and historical overtones.
The Japanese also won the Asian Cup in 1992 and 2000.
China coach Arie Haan refused to collect his runner-up medal in protest over the officiating of Kuwaiti referee Saad Kameel
"The first goal was from a free kick to Japan that should have gone to us, the second was handball and the third was after a foul on Sun Jihai," fumed the Dutchman.
"I didn't feel ready to take the medal. I don't know who scored those goals -- how can you win when this happens?"
Japan coach Zico praised his team for battling through the intimidation factor.
"From the start of the tournament all the fans have supported our opponents and it was worse today with 60,000 fans for China," said the Brazilian
"Nobody thought we would win before the tournament but we have kept faith in ourselves and made it to the top."
Japan weathered an early storm from China before taking a 22nd-minute lead against the run of play following a questionable foul on Nakamura by defender Wei Xin.
Nakamura whipped in a dangerous free kick and Takashi Fukunishi headed in from close range after a knockdown from Takayuki Suzuki to silence a hostile crowd of 65,000.
However, China struck back in the 37th minute, midfielder Li Ming sweeping home a superb left-foot shot from 25 metres after good work from Yan Song.
Japan have been booed relentlessly at the Asian Cup and they were subjected to similar treatment, their national anthem drowned out by a cacophony of booing before kickoff.
The Japanese players were jeered as they celebrated but more than 6,000 security staff -- including riot police, armed troops and SWAT teams -- were on call to prevent any violence.
However, trouble flared outside the stadium after the match with police in riot gear battling to restore order among furious Chinese fans.
Chinese harbour bitter resentment over Japan's military invasion and brutal occupation of parts of the country from 1931 to 1945, when tens of millions died.
China, who have never won the Asian Cup, finished runners-up for the second time after losing 2-0 to Saudi Arabia in the 1984 final.
Bravo to japan!
[Edited on 7-8-2004 by rassel]