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Wang Shuang stars as China PR edge Korea Republic for Tokyo Olympics spot

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Suzhou: A 103rd-minute strike from Wang Shuang helped China PR claim the final Asian place in the women’s football tournament at the Tokyo Olympics, prevailing 4-3 on aggregate after a breathless playoff second leg against Korea Republic ended 2-2 after extra time at Suzhou Olympic Center Stadium on Tuesday.

Jia Xiuquan’s side overcame the absence of captain Wu Haiyan and a blistering start from the visitors, who overturned China’s 2-1 first leg with two goals before half-time before a virtuoso display from Wang ensured the Steel Roses will appear at a third consecutive Summer Games.

A Kang Chae-rim volley and a Li Mengwen own goal had Korea Republic dreaming of Tokyo, but Yang Man got the hosts back into the match when she nudged home a Wang free kick, before Wang herself delivered the decisive blow with a superb goal in extra-time.

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Colin Bell promised a more focused and energetic Korea Republic in the early stages, and his team made good on that pledge, looking a different side to the one which had laboured in the opening minutes in Goyang City last Thursday.

Desperate to qualify for the first time, the visitors had much of the early possession and they capitalised on the suspension of Chinese defensive lynchpin Wu to go ahead in the 31st minute, with Kang Chae-rim adding to her goal from the first leg with a sweetly-struck volley to finish off a chance created by Cho So-hyun’s excellent run and cross.

Back in the line-up after suffering from fitness concerns in the lead up to the first leg, Cho was also instrumental in Korea Republic’s second, which arrived in the 45h minute.

The veteran midfielder directed a booming header towards goal, forcing Peng Shimeng into a fine save, but the Chinese goalkeeper ultimately couldn’t keep the ball out of the net, with Chinese defender Li Mengwen credited with an own goal after Kang, then Choe Yu-ri, were instrumental in forcing the ball over the line.

At 2-0 on the day and 3-2 on aggregate, Korea Republic were in front for the first time in the tie, and it was the visitors who best navigated the early stages of the second half, calmly handling whatever Jia’s charges threw their way, until the pendulum swung back in China’s favour in the 69th-minute.

It was a half-time substitute, Yang Man, who provided the intervention they needed, getting the faintest touch on Wang Shuang’s excellent set-piece delivery to level the tie at 3-3 on aggregate.

From that moment extra-time seemed inevitable and, with the exception of an effort from Ji So-yun, who nearly conjured a miraculous 92nd-minute winner for the Koreans, the dying minutes of normal time passed without major incident.

A qualifying campaign which had begun 30 months earlier came down to the final 30 minutes and, for the second time in the match, it was the quality of Wang Shuang which came to fore.

The former Paris Saint-Germain star seized the moment to score a spectacular goal in the 13th minute of extra-time, receiving the ball from Wang Shanshan before picking out the bottom corner with her left foot from 20-yards to put China back in front.

Confined to her Wuhan apartment building when China began their qualifying campaign last February, Wang had now scored crucial goals in both legs, and set up another, to drag her team over the line when it mattered most.

Korea Republic valiantly pushed for the goal they now needed, but it was to no avail, with China celebrating a famous aggregate win, and one which puts them in the Olympic group stage draw, which will be staged next Thursday.

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