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Group B: Japan simply perfect

Chonburi: Japan made it three wins from three at the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019 as they beat China PR 2-1 on Sunday to progress to the semi-finals as Group B winners and edge ever closer to a sixth Continental crown.

Goals either side of the break eventually proved the difference as Japan claimed a hard-fought victory against a spirited China outfit who exited the competition after being consigned to a third-place finish following Korea Republic’s win over Myanmar in the group’s other game.

Japan will now meet Australia in the last four on Wednesday as both sides look to reach the tournament’s November 9 title showdown and, in the process, guarantee themselves a place at the 2020 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

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Despite leading goalscorer Yuzuki Yamamoto being named on the bench by head coach Futoshi Ikeda, Japan took the lead on 10 minutes when Misaki Morita’s sublime pass found Momo Kato who advanced before rolling the ball past China goalkeeper Zhu Mengdi.

With Han Xuan to the fore, China refused to buckle though and they came close to grabbing an equaliser shortly before the half-hour mark as Yang Qian’s rasping drive forced Maya Ino into a fine save.

Haruka Osawa was then denied by Zhu’s sprawling stop, before Japan’s hardworking midfielder Chise Takizawa (pictured below, right) flashed an effort narrowly wide of the target as the first period drew to a close.

China – needing all three points to keep alive their hopes of going through to the next round – were quickly into their strike after the break, but it was to be Japan who fashioned the half’s first opportunity, Zhu reacting well to gather the ball ahead of the onrushing Osawa in the 63rd minute.

Japan continued to press their regional rivals, and they duly extended their advantage on 71 minutes courtesy of Morita’s tremendous shot from distance.

Moments later, China reduced the deficit as substitute Sun Pingwei reacted quickest to slam home the rebound after Dou Jiaxing’s initial effort had been blocked.

The goal briefly hinted at a sensational comeback that China’s second-half display arguably warranted, but it was not to be as reigning champions Japan held firm to go through.

Park Tae-ha: China PR head coach

“We are upset about today’s result but our players tried their very best. Japan are a very good team, we could see that, and there was a gap in quality between the two sides. Nevertheless, I am pleased with how my players performed. Overall, in the three games we had here, the players performed just as we had trained to do. Obviously, though, we are disappointed not to be going to the [FIFA U-20 Women’s] World Cup.”

Futoshi Ikeda: Japan head coach

“I must congratulate my players as they played very well up until the later stages of the game. We had prepared by looking at the China defence and tried to use long balls to break them down. For our semi-final match, we only have two days to recover but we will do our best to ensure the players are prepared for the game. Although we are defending champions, we are not thinking about that, rather we are just focusing on taking it one game at a time.”

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