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Japan edge DPR Korea for title

Chonburi: Japan emerged victorious at the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019, outlasting defending champions DPR Korea 2-1 in a gripping final at Chonburi Stadium on Saturday.

Two goals in four first-half minutes from Suzu Amano and Manaka Hayashi helped Japan overturn an early Hong Song-ok penalty and end DPR Korea’s four-match winning run in the tournament.

The win makes Japan the first nation to win the competition four times, as head coach Michihsia Kano’s charges followed on from previous successes at the U-17 level in 2005, and U-16 triumphs in 2011 and 2013.

While Japan claimed the title, both nations will represent Asia at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2020.

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With a combined record of 39 goals scored and none conceded coming into the decider, Japan and DPR Korea showed why they are two of the world’s most successful women’s youth football nations, producing an opening 45 minutes of quality and intensity.

Chasing a third successive title, DPR Korea were the first to strike, going ahead through a ninth-minute penalty after Ririka Tanno brought down a surging Kim Chung-mi, with Hong stepping up to convincingly convert the spot-kick for the simplest but most important of her four goals in Chonburi.

But while early goals from DPR Korea had paved the way for one-sided affairs against all four of their previous opponents, Japan showed they were made of sterner stuff, immediately launching attacks of their own, and finding their reward in the 19th minute.

Japan’s equaliser was beautiful in its simplicity, with Yuko Inose spotting the off-the-ball movement of teammate Amano and doing just enough to direct the ball into her path, before Amano finished unerringly from inside the box to become the first player in the tournament to beat DPR Korea goalkeeper Pak Ju-mi.

Japan’s second goal came just four minutes later, this time through a sensational 25-yard strike from defender Hayashi, who pounced when an Aemu Oyama set-piece delivery from wide spilled loose off the boot of Inose, unleashing a strike every bit as good as her stunning opener against Bangladesh on Matchday Two.

Rarely tested in nearly 400 prior minutes of football, DPR Korea had conceded twice in the space of just four, but they were still well and truly in the game and would have gone to half-time on level terms had it not been for the desperately unlucky Kim Hye-yong, who saw one strike on goal hit both uprights before trickling harmlessly away as Japan maintained a 2-1 advantage at the interval.

After a first-half played at a blistering pace, the early stages of the second period produced fewer scoring chances but saw significant tactical switches with Japanese top scorer Maika Hamano and four-goal DPR Korea forward Kim Hye-yong both replaced.

Hanon Nishio, Hamano’s impressive replacement, nearly announced her arrival in stunning style when she beat three defenders before firing a shot narrowly wide just after the hour mark, while DPR Korea had the ball in the net in the 64th minute, but only well after a foul had been called on Japanese goalkeeper Nina Noda.

DPR Korea threw all of their considerable attacking power behind finding an equaliser, but only went close with a Myong Yu-jong header, which was kept out by Noda, as Japan claimed a highly impressive and well-deserved victory.

Japan’s title is their first AFC U-16 Women’s Championship crown since 2013, with that group of players going on to become world champions the following year – an achievement that Kano’s players will have the chance to repeat in India.

Michihisa Kano: Japan head coach

“We tried to go aggressively from the front, however we conceded early with a penalty kick. Afterwards the players remained very calm and analysed the game very well, and we were able to equalise then score the second goal. The players trained to be able to apply high pressure, and it was very important to the players to perform in this match.”

Hwang Yong-song: DPR Korea head coach

“We tried to control the game from the beginning of the match. The girls were a bit over-excited, and as the match went on we lost control of the match. From the beginning the players’ spirits were very high. They wanted to win this match very badly and they scored the first goal, from there they got too excited and lost control. After conceding two goals they tried too hard (to come back).”

Photos: AFC

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