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MD1: Nippon TV Beleza 1-1 Jiangsu Suning Ladies FC

Yongin: Nippon TV Beleza and Jiangsu Suning shared the AFC Women’s Club Championship’s first ever points, playing out a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the FIFA/AFC Pilot Tournament at Yongin Citizens Sports Park on Tuesday.

Jiangsu’s impressive Malawian striker Tabitha Chawinga wrote her name into the history books with the tournament’s first goal in the seventh minute, but Beleza were level just three minutes later thanks to Mjna Tanaka before a second half arm-wrestle.

The result keeps both sides in title contention with two further matches to play in the competition.

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Nippon TV Beleza named a fearsome line-up for the tournament’s first ever match, with all 11 starters having represented Japan at senior international level, while Jiangsu Suning arrived hoping to secure a fifth piece of silverware in 2019.

Beleza’s intentions were clear from the opening moments with players pushed high up the pitch, but that approach was quickly exploited by Chawinga, who produced a stunning burst of speed to cruise in behind the defence before beating Ayaka Yamashita from 15 yards and notch the history-making opening goal for Jiangsu.

Just as quickly as they fell behind, Beleza returned fire, equalising just three minutes later through Nadeshiko League MVP Mika Tanaka, who benefitted from a fine run and pass by Rikako Kobayashi, before stepping inside and rifling the ball in the bottom corner of Peng Shimeng’s goal.

With Yui Hasegawa increasingly pulling the strings in midfield, the Japanese side continued their territorial ascendancy, but Jiangsu continued to find joy through Chawinga, whose blistering pace allowed her to breach the Beleza defence twice more, only to be denied by crucial Yamashita saves in the 31st and 45th minutes.

Despite Chawinga’s standout performance, Jiangsu very nearly went to the interval behind as Yuka Momiki slammed a 25-yard drive into the crossbar just moments before the half-time whistle.

The early stages of the second half followed a similar path, with Beleza probing for a way through the relatively deep Jiangsu defence, and the Chinese outfit occasionally countering through Chawinga, with substitute Wu Chengsu adding a touch of extra creativity on the right.

With second-half minutes ticking away without an abundance of scoring opportunities, Beleza head coach Masato Nagata introduced talented winger Riko Ueki with just over 20 minutes remaining, and she nearly produced the moment of magic they were looking for, slaloming past two defenders before drawing a crucial save from Peng in the 75th minute.

Ueki’s effort was the closest either side came to finding a late winner, leaving Beleza to look ahead to Thursday's clash with Korea Republic champions Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels, while Jiangsu will meet Australia’s Melbourne Victory.

Jocelyn Precheur: Jiangsu Suning Ladies FC head coach

“My feeling is that we have achieved a good result, because our opponent was very strong. (Nippon TV Beleza) have the habit of winning almost all the games they play, and, at the end, I think the draw is not a bad result. After that, maybe we could have taken more opportunities from the chances we had. As for our mentality on the pitch, I am fully satisfied.”

Masato Nagata: Nippon TV Beleza head coach

“It was a really tough game. Our opponents had high physical strength, especially number 11 (Tabitha Chawinga) and number 6 (Elizabeth Addo). They played very well, and our defenders became a bit confused, which made it a difficult match for us.”

Photos: Korea Football Association

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