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Japan’s Hamano delighted by semi-final impact

Chonburi: Sharpshooter Maika Hamano revealed her joy after Japan reached Saturday’s AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019 Final, as well as next year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India, on Wednesday.

Hamano may have started Wednesday’s semi-final against China PR on the bench, but she ended it with a place in the tournament decider against DPR Korea and the outright lead on the scoring charts after continuing her sparkling form with a fifth goal in four matches.

With successive braces against Bangladesh and Thailand, the 15-year-old forward could have been forgiven for assuming her place in head coach Michihisa Kano’s starting line-up was safe, but she watched the opening 68 minutes of the all-important knockout stage clash from the substitutes' bench.

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As has been her habit in this competition, Hamano made an impact, expanding on Hanon Nishio’s 71st minute opener with a close-range finish eight minutes from time to apply the finishing touch to a significant milestone for Kano’s side.

In addition to stamping Japan’s ticket to the world stage, Hamano’s goal took her one clear of DPR Korea duo Myong Yu-jong and Kim Hye-yong in the race for the top scorer award, and the striker was delighted to have played her part.

AFC U-16 Women's Championship Thailand 2019 - Semi-final: Japan vs China PR

“I didn’t feel very good (when the coach told me I was on the bench),” admitted Hamano. “I wasn’t playing from the start, but I tried to support the team as much as I could. I got the message from the coach (that I would come on as a substitute).

“This goal was more important than the previous ones (scored in the group stage). I’m very happy.”

With a four-match unbeaten run and a record of 19 goals and none conceded, Japan’s final test will come against a DPR Korea team which has put together an even more impressive run of results.

The defending champions have been irresistible in Chonburi, continuing their charge with a 3-0 semi-final win against Australia on Wednesday, but, while Hamano is aware of the difficulty of the task, she embraces the challenges ahead, both on Saturday and in India next September.

“DPR Korea is very good at attacking, so, against such a team, I want to score the goal,” she declared.

“I want to make a name for myself in the world (at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup).”

Meanwhile, Japanese defender Yuri Ogikubo revealed her growing sense of comfort on the international stage.

The 16-year-old – a starter in all four matches of the Little Nadeshiko’s AFC U-16 Women’s Championship campaign – explained her relief at having sealed a place in India, and her growing enjoyment at representing her country.

“I am very calm and relieved now (that we’ve qualified for the World Cup),” said Ogikubo, who sees Nadeshiko captain Saki Kumagai as the player she wants to emulate.

“Before the tournament started, I was very nervous, and I was worried about whether I can perform very well at this level. However, once I started playing in this tournament I have begun to really enjoy playing here with the team.”

The AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019 Final will staged at Chonburi Stadium on Saturday, with the winners to become the first nation to have lifted the trophy on four occasions.

Photos: AFC

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