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MD3: Nippon TV Beleza cruise to historic title

Yongin: Japanese champions Nippon TV Beleza secured a history-making AFC Women’s Club Championship title, producing another excellent performance to earn a 5-0 win against Australia’s Melbourne Victory on Saturday.

Beleza captain Mina Tanaka netted a superb hat-trick, with Sara Ito and Kokona Iwasaki also getting on the scoresheet, as the rulers of Japan’s domestic scene demonstrated their class to the rest of the Continent.

The result gave Masato Nagata’s side a final tally of seven points, creating an unassailable four-point lead over second-placed Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels, who will close the tournament against Jiangsu Suning later on Saturday.

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Beleza came into their final outing in the box seat to secure the title, but Victory - who themselves still had a mathematical chance of finishing top on the table - welcomed the return of a number of key players including captain Natasha Dowie and Australian international defenders Jenna McCormick and Teigen Allen.

Despite Victory’s bolstered line-up, it took just nine minutes for the Nadeshiko League champions to take the lead, when Tanaka – scorer of 20 league goals in Japan this season - latched onto Saori Ariyoshi’s inch-perfect cross to nod the ball beyond a stranded Casey Dumont from close range.

Beleza’s sparkling football was a joy to watch at times, and their high-quality passing, movement and understanding underpinned a period where Jun Endo, Riko Ueki and Yui Hasegawa all came close to scoring.

While Victory continued to apply themselves, it seemed only a matter of time until the second goal came, and it duly arrived after Sara Ito was fouled by Allen in the penalty area, with the Japanese U-19 international sending Dumont the wrong way from the subsequent spot-kick to make it 2-0 in the 35th minute.

Tanaka should have added a third when she missed from just yards out after being supplied by Ueki a minute later, but Beleza could have few complaints after a convincing first half performance which put them within 45 minutes of the title.

It was business as usual four minutes after the interval, with Tanaka latching onto a wonderful lofted ball from Hasegawa to beat Dumont one on one and take herself into the outright lead of the tournament scoring charts with her third in as many matches.

Beleza’s goal machine notched the AFC Women’s Club Championship’s first ever hat-trick, emphatically volleying home Endo’s teasing cross, and removing any lingering doubt as to the destination of the trophy, in the 56th minute.

To their credit, Victory remained committed for the full 90 minutes, and some creditable goalkeeping from Dumont prevented the margin from widening further, but it was Beleza’s day to cherish, as they added an eye-catching fifth goal through substitute Iwasaki in injury time as the powerhouse of Japanese women’s football took their dominance to the continental stage with a historic piece of silverware.

Masato Nagata: Nippon TV Beleza head coach

“We have our way of playing, and throughout the tournament we got used to the other teams’ power and speed. To keep the ball, to score and to learn were the tasks in this competition and we have achieved good results. In the first half today, we tried to go into the final third in order to score goals, but the Australian team were big and strong, and they made it difficult. We did score, but it wasn’t the best way to play so in the second half we improved and made more chances, which led to more goals. It was also good that we were able to give lots of chances to young players today.”

Jeff Hopkins: Melbourne Victory head coach

“I’m very disappointed, but I want to congratulate the Japanese side. They’re a very, very good side. Technically excellent, great movement and, as you saw with the score line, they caused us a huge amount of problems today. It’s learning process for us. We want to get better and sometimes you have to take a few hard hits before you can turn things around.”

Photos: Korea Football Association

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