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Final: Japan edge DPR Korea for title

Chonburi: Japan claimed the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019 title on Saturday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over regional rivals DPR Korea.

Goals from Yuzuki Yamamoto and Hana Takahashi proved the difference on a night when Futoshi Ikeda’s side withstood intense late pressure to retain the Continental crown they won at the competition’s 2017 edition and, in the process, seal their nation’s sixth success at this level.

Both teams will now go on to represent Asia at next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup – which Japan will enter as reigning champions – where they will be joined by Korea Republic who finished third after beating Australia 9-1 earlier in the day.

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In what was a repeat of four previous AFC U-19 Women’s Championship deciders, there was little to show between the two teams as the game unfolded with Japan’s early forays into their opponents’ half floundering on a watertight DPR Korea defence.

Indeed, it was to be DPR Korea who were to have the first sight on goal, Yun Ji-hwa’s 11th minute drive forcing Momoko Tanaka into a smart save.

With DPR Korea continuing to turn the screw, Kim Yun-ok then unleashed a shot which fizzed just over the bar, while captain Ri Su-gong launched a similarly lengthy effort inches off target on 26 minutes.

Having weathered the storm, Japan duly replied through a fierce Haruka Osawa strike that was blocked superbly by Son Ok-ju, and the forward’s attempt from range that DPR Korea goalkeeper Yu Son-gum easily gathered on the stroke of half-time.

Within two minutes of the restart, Japan were ahead. Momo Nakao superbly manoeuvred herself into the DPR Korea box before finding Yamamoto who finished with aplomb from close range to bag her fifth goal of the tournament and hand her side the lead.

Buoyed by their opening goal, Japan pushed forward looking for a second with Yu saving from Sara Ito, only for DPR Korea livewire Kim Yun-ok to then flash an angled drive narrowly wide of Tanaka’s left-hand upright.

As DPR Korea pressed for an equaliser, Japan doubled their advantage in the 72nd minute, this time skipper Takahashi rising majestically to head home Oto Kanno’s corner.

The Koreans, though, eventually grabbed a lifeline courtesy of Kim Yun-ok’s penalty which had been awarded after Takahashi’s handling offence in the area.

Tanaka subsequently made an excellent sprawling save from Kim Yun-ok, although it was to matter little in the end as referee Edita Mirabidova blew the final whistle to spark scenes of Japanese jubilation and leave DPR Korea wondering what could have been.