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Japan beat China to claim spot in FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup

Saturday, September 23, 2017
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Chonburi: Japan maintained their record of qualifying for every FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, beating China PR by a Momo Nakao (pictured below, right) goal to secure third place at the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship in Thailand.

Seen by a Finals record crowd of 1,677, Nakao’s powerful second half strike made all the difference against a committed China PR, and came after Japan had missed a penalty just before half-time.

The result means Naoki Kusunose’s side will return to a competition where they have reached three finals – becoming FIFA U-17 world champions in 2014.

Japan made three changes to the team who lost on penalties to Korea Republic, including four-goal substitute Tomoko Tanaka, who was reinstated to Naoki Kusunose’s starting 11 for the first time since claiming Player of the Match honours against Bangladesh in the group stage.

China PR – who had an unchanged line-up – showed a much greater attacking verve than against DPR Korea in the semi-final, with the pace of Tang Han causing problems for the Japanese defence, but clear cut chances were not forthcoming.

Japan’s Haruka Osawa carved out an opening for herself at the half-hour mark, but her shot flew straight at goalkeeper He Peibin after a jinking run that had left the Chinese defence scrambling.

Chinese custodian He produced a super save six minutes later to deny Tanaka’s low drive after Japan had cut through the defence with a lovely passing move, but Kusunose’s side would have an even better chance in first half injury time.

When Li Yinghua’s clumsy challenge tripped Osawa in the penalty area, referee Casey Reibelt had no hesitation in awarding a penalty, seemingly undoing 45 minutes of hard graft by the Chinese defence.

But when Osawa rose to take her own penalty, she slid it dramatically wide, to the jubilation of China PR’s players and sizeable contingent of fans.

Goalless at halftime, the game burst into life in the 55th minute when Osawa and Tanaka combined beautifully down the right before Tanaka’s blocked shot fell into the path of Momo Nakao, who thumped a crackling 20-metre drive beyond He to give Japan a precious 1-0 lead.

That goal was quickly followed by chances at both ends, as Shu Ohba denied Tang and Kinoshita narrowly missed out on scoring a goal of the tournament contender.

Nakao produced another super strike in the 77th minute, with the goalkeeper this time proving equal to the task, before Chise Takizawa went close a minute later as Japan searched for a clincher.

China PR piled on the pressure with a series of corner kicks in the game’s latter stages, but– having lost only on penalties in Thailand – Japan claimed a deserved ticket to Uruguay 2018.

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Naoki Kusunose (Head Coach, Japan)

“It was a challenging match. We didn’t do well with our scoring ability and China defended well, but the players did very well and never gave up. Since we lost on penalties, today’s win was very memorable and our players did very well and we must take this experience to our advantage. A year (until the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup) is not a long time, so we have to start preparation and know that we are the third in Asia now. That is our level now.”

Gao Hong (Head Coach, China PR)

“In the first half we played well, but in the second half there were some fitness problems. I still encourage (the players) to play our way, go forward and show more attacking power. The first 20 or 30 minutes we played that way, but they didn’t get a chance to score. I think we played a few matches the way we wanted to. We showed our play style and our players also explored their characters on the pitch. We need more quality games to give them more experiences. They have huge potential.”

Photos: AFC