Yokoyama the hero as Japan emerge champions
Amman: Japan became champions for a second successive time, as Kumi Yokoyama’s superb late goal secured a 1-0 win over Australia in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2018 final on Friday.
The win means Asako Takakura’s charges are the first team to win back-to-back Asian titles since DPR Korea in 2003.
The Nadeshiko survived a deluge of Australian shots at goal, including a saved penalty kick in the 15th minute, before substitute Yokoyama’s strike turned the match in their favour with just six minutes remaining.
Seven days after the sides played out a crucial Group B tie to see who would remain in the tournament, they met again at the same venue to decide who would win it, and – in a repeat of the previous meeting – it was Australia who started the stronger.
The Matildas were sharp from the opening seconds and Japan were only kept on level terms by goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita’s 13th minute double save, which denied both Sam Kerr’s spinning volley and Lisa De Vanna’s follow-up.
Australia had a great chance to score when they were awarded a penalty after Nadeshiko captain Saki Kumagai handled Tameka Butt’s shot at goal just a minute later, but Yamashita - superb all night - came to the rescue again, denying a tame effort from Elise Kellond-Knight.
Japan seemed to gain a measure of confidence from the early reprieve, and began to exert a greater influence on the match, with Mana Iwabuchi and Rumi Utsugi both firing shots at the Australian goal in the 24th minute.
One of the stars of the tournament, Iwabuchi created a superb chance when her pass put Yui Hasegawa through on goal 11 minutes later, with the fingertips of Lydia Williams keeping the sides level.
A well-timed Kerr run saw her breach Japan’s defensive line on the verge of half-time, but – with a clear sight of goal – the AFC Women’s Player of the Year’s heavy touch effectively derailed the chance, and Yamashita made a comfortable save.
Alen Stajcic’s side came out firing after the break, and Emily van Egmond nearly opened the scoring in stunning fashion in the 53rd minute, when her 35-yard drive hammered into the crossbar.
The Australian efforts at goal continued with regularity, with Butt and Chloe Logarzo trying their luck without reward as they continued to push for a crucial opener.
But, against the run of play, it was Japan who took the lead with a brilliant goal from 24-year-old substitute Yokoyama in the 84th minute.
Twelve minutes after being introduced, the forward received the ball from Hasegawa, took a touch around Kennedy and drilled the ball beyond Williams into the top corner of the net from 18 yards to notch her fourth goal of the tournament in less than 100 minutes of playing time.
Australia pressed for a late equaliser, but Japan held firm to lift their third major trophy in seven years, and their first under former playing great Takakura.
Roll of Honour
Third-place: China PR
Most Valuable Player: Mana Iwabuchi (Japan)
Top Scorer: Li Ying (China)
Fair Play: Japan