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Triumphant Kano praises Japan’s mental strength

Chonburi: Michihisa Kano hailed the composure of his victorious Japan side after they won the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019 title on Saturday.

The Little Nadeshiko produced their best performance of the tournament to beat a previously irresistible DPR Korea 2-1 in the final at Chonburi Stadium, becoming the first nation to win the tournament four times and denying their East Asian rivals a third successive title.

Making Japan’s success even impressive was the fact that they achieved it having fallen a goal behind within the opening 10 minutes, with terrific goals from Suzu Amano and Manaka Hayashi overhauling Hong Song-ok’s opener.

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Speaking after the match, head coach Kano praised his young charges for their ability to retain cool heads in a white-hot atmosphere.

“We tried to go aggressively from the front, however we conceded early with a penalty kick,” said Kano.

“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, and play under, high pressure, so the intensity of this match was very normal for the players. In the previous two days, we prepared for this match and everything we prepared for came into play.”

Final: Japan vs DPR Korea

Kano had spoken the day before the game about his belief that every player in his squad could play a role, and – as if to prove it – he replaced tournament top scorer Maika Hamano with eventual tournament MVP Hanon Nishio at half-time.

Few, if any, other teams in the tournament would have had the luxury to use some of their most effective players for only a portion of such a crucial match, but Kano revealed it was all part of his pre-match strategy.

“I had a plan to use Nishio for the second half,” he revealed

“I believed if I could bring her on in the second half, she would be more effective than if I used her from the start.”

Japan lift the Trophy

The AFC U-16 Women’s Championship success came on a red-letter for Japanese sport, with the national rugby team earning a shock World Cup win over Ireland in Shizuoka, while the national women’s basketball side earned a place in the Asia Cup Final.

But, while Kano applauded his sporting counterparts, football remains his love, and helping to grow the women’s game is where his focus lies.

“Of course, we welcome it, when Japanese sport enjoys success, but it is more important to me to think about women’s football as there is still so much to do,” said Kano.

Japan celebrate in the dressing room

While Japan toasted its new young stars, DPR Korea boss Hwang Yong-song was left to reflect on what went wrong after his side picked the worst possible moment to suffer their first defeat in the competition.

Hwang believes his players failed to keep their composure on the big stage but considers the tournament – which provided DPR Korea with a place at next year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India - a crucial learning experience.

“Looking not just at today’s match, but at the whole tournament, the girls learned a lot about things like strategy and attacking,” said the DPR Korea head coach.

“Overall, the players learned quite a lot. The experience they have gained in this tournament will help them prepare moving forward, particularly ahead of the (FIFA U-17 Women’s) World Cup.”

Photos: AFC

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