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By ESPN Staff

'Hand of Koji' brings Japan third title

BEIJING, Aug 8 (Reuters) - It may not reverberate around the world in quite the same way as Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' but Koji Nakata effectively won the Asian Cup for Japan - and broke Chinese hearts - with a clear handball.

Japan beat hosts China 3-1 in Beijing on Saturday in a politically-charged final to claim their third Asian Cup title, provoking a furious reaction from Chinese fans.

Nakata scooped a Shunsuke Nakamura corner over the line in the 65th minute to give Japan the lead for the second time after the teams had started the second half level at 1-1.

Replays showed the midfielder had used his right hand to force the ball over the line, infuriating the Chinese players, coaching staff and a raucous crowd of 65,000.

The 'Hand of Koji' could fuel as much heartache in China as Maradona's infamous goal at the 1986 World Cup has in England.

China coach Arie Haan claimed, with some justification, that all three Japanese goals were questionable and refused to collect his runners-up medal in protest at the officiating of Kuwaiti referee Saad Kameel.

'The first goal was a free kick to Japan that should have been for us, the second was handball and the third was after a foul on Sun Jihai,' fumed Haan, whose team have never won the Asian Cup. 'How can you win when this happens?'

Nakata himself said only: 'I was trying to put it in with my chest.'

The defeat was a shattering blow for China, who were arguably the best team in a tournament plagued by political rows, disciplinary problems and sub-standard refereeing.

In the final, Japan took the lead against the run of play in the 22nd minute after a dubious foul on Nakamura.

Takashi Fukunishi scored from the resulting free kick.

To add insult to injury for China, Manchester City full-back Sun Jihai was clattered during the build-up to Keiji Tamada's injury-time third in another incident not spotted by Kameel.

'Maybe I was watching a different game,' Haan said. 'The final should have been for us, for everyone, a different ending - not the way it was decided.'

Chinese anger spilled over after the match with a group of several hundred hurling bottles and burning Japanese flags as local supporters battled with riot police.

There is lingering resentment in China over Japan's military invasion and brutal occupation of parts of the country from 1931 to 1945 when tens of millions died.