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MD2: Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels 0-2 Nippon TV Beleza

Yongin: Japan’s Nippon TV Beleza moved to the top of the AFC Women’s Club Championship table with one match remaining after goals from Riko Ueki and Rikako Kobayashi secured a 2-0 win over Korea Republic champions Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels on Thursday.

Ueki’s header opened the scoring just after half time, before Kobayashi sealed the win in the dying seconds, helping Masato Nagata’s side to leapfrog the tournament hosts and put themselves 90 minutes away from being Asia’s first ever women’s club champions.

With four points from two matches, Beleza’s win means they’ll be able to seal the inaugural club crown with a win over Australia’s Melbourne Victory on Saturday, while the tournament hosts, who are a point behind, could go into their match with Jiangsu Suning with the title already lost.

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The Red Angels superb 4-0 success against Melbourne Victory on Tuesday, coupled with other results, meant the Korean club would have won the competition early with another victory here, and a teasing early cross from Thais Guedes hinted at the danger they possessed in the final third.

But Nippon TV Beleza aren’t 17-time Japanese champions for nothing, and they announced their arrival in the tie when Yuka Momiki’s persistence led to a run and strike on goal, with the hosts surviving a six-yard box scramble after Kim Min-jung’s low save.

Masato Nagata’s side were starting to build a compelling case, but the Red Angels remained dangerous on the break, with Thais Guedes scooping the ball just over the crossbar after an excellent delivery from reinstated Brazilian compatriot Beatriz, who herself had the ball in the back of the net later in the first half, but only after the whistle had been blown for an earlier foul.

Despite the Red Angels’ qualities, Beleza had plenty of the ball and rarely misused it, but they weren’t able to turn it into a breakthrough goal, with Kobayashi’s thumping half-volley into the side netting the closest they came in the latter stages of the first half.

The drought was broken soon after the interval, as Beleza took the lead through a wonderful angled header from Ueki, which kissed the upright on the way into the back of net after Yui Hasegawa’s pinpoint delivery from a 49th-minute corner kick Ueki had won herself.

The next 15 minutes belonged exclusively to the Japanese outfit, who won the ball higher up the pitch, created chances at will, and could have added further goals from Momiki, Kobayashi and Mina Tanaka.

Eager to change the direction of the match, the Red Angels introduced Lee Young-ju, and attempted to push players further forward, but Momiki and Ueki continued to cause them problems, and the latter went close to doubling her tally with just under 20 minutes remaining.

With the hosts still a single goal behind in the final minutes, Beatriz had the ball in the net again in stoppage time, but celebrations were cut short as it became clear Jung Seol-bin had strayed offside in the build-up.

The drama continued into the fourth minute of stoppage time, as a Beleza counter-attack produced a great chance for Kobayashi, who picked out the bottom corner of Kim’s net to seal three vital points for the Japanese champions, who are now within touching distance of a historic title.

Masato Nagata: Nippon TV Beleza head coach

“As we saw in the last Red Angels match, they are strong in possession and kind of similar to our style of football, so we were very excited to play against them. Today we were able to possess the ball, score and win, so I’m happy about it. We had two aims for today: to reduce their attacking threat and also to move the ball in their defensive third. In those two aims we did well. We were also able to press them high. Considering the players’ lack of rest, they ran a lot and fought very well.

Jong Song-chon: Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels head coach

“Our players played the best they could today. We tried to succeed with what we had prepared but our opponents were very strong, and they were able to get the better result. Most of the Japanese teams have a certain pattern and we tried to prepare some defensive strategies according to that, but because of the short preparation time we weren’t able to show it on the field as much as we had hoped to. In the future we hope to be able to develop this more thoroughly.”

Photos: Korea Football Association

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