JAPAN boss Alberto Zaccheroni saluted a heroic effort from his players after Tadanari Lee's extra-time goal secured a record fourth Asian Cup triumph with a 1-0 win over Australia.
Lee's superb volley from Yuto Nagatomo's left-wing cross settled a hard-fought contest in Japan's favour at Khalifa Stadium, as they claimed their fourth continental crown in 18 years to become the Asian Cup's most successful nation.
"Physically, we were very exhausted for the final," said Zaccheroni.
"(Keisuke) Honda, (Yasuhito) Endo and (Makoto) Hasebe did not train, (Shinji) Okazaki yesterday couldn't even walk, Nagatomo had a foot problem and couldn't prepare.
"We were playing against a very good physical and tactical team like Australia, so the final was a separate game.
"Our attack, we played with speed and accuracy, that's the feature this team has at the moment and they improved all the way to the final."
The Italian also hailed Eiji Kawashima's performance after the keeper pulled off two crucial saves in each half to deny Harry Kewell.
"I did not know that he was being criticised by the media, he did very well in the World Cup," he added.
"I don't like changing keepers a lot, of course sometimes they make mistakes and then you have to deal with criticism as well. Kawashima played with composure and he knows that I trust him. He played well in the semi-final and the final and answered the criticism. Against Australia he had plenty to do and he performed very well.
"I have not won an international competition, this is the first time. This is an excellent team and we have excellent players so I am proud to manage this team."
Lee, 25, could not hide his delight at his dream coming true to lift his side to victory after being substituted on.
"I feel super. I could not play for such a long time and I had to keep on waiting, believing that there would be a chance for me," Lee said.
"I could score a goal in the end and I'm really happy. I kept talking to myself, saying 'I'll be a hero. I'll be a hero' before I went onto the pitch."
"I'm really happy that I was able to stand on this pitch. I really want to thank everyone. We'll have to work hard as the Asian champions and I want you, the fans, all to support the Japanese national team."
Zaccheroni said he had always backed his substitutes to lift the side when they needed it most.
"I knew he (Lee) would do it. What is great about this team is that players, who started on the bench, could produce results on the pitch," the Italian said.