Japan excel again, world champions thwarted
© AFC

The high quality of Asian women’s youth football has been evident over the past fortnight in Nanjing, China PR, where Japan, Korea DPR and the host nation secured passage to Azerbaijan 2012. Squeezed out of contention were Korea Republic, winners of the last FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago. Meanwhile, Australia - Asian champions at senior level - were unable to make an impact, winning just one of their five matches.

Japan retained their Asian crown in style, winning all their outings, as they seek to go one better than their high-scoring final defeat to Korea Republic at Trinidad and Tobago 2010. Korea DPR, semi-finalists in the same tournament, finished second in Nanjing, three points off the pace. China, for their part, secured a first-ever qualification for the tournament. It will be an achievement well received after failing to reach this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, a first for the world’s most populace nation.

Japan youngsters maintain momentum 
After a stunning 2011 for Japanese football it was left to the youngest national team to continue the momentum and they delivered in style. Ultimately, it turned out the opening game was pivotal with Japan edging Korea DPR 1-0 thanks to Ruka Norimatsu’s extra-time winner. The performance at the tournament means that Japan, incredibly, finished the year as winners of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the London 2012 Olympic qualifiers, and both youth World Cup qualifying tournaments, losing just once across 21 matches.

Korea DPR, with a stunning record on the world stage at this level, enjoyed a similarly impressive tournament following the disappointment of Germany 2011. They overpowered neighbours Korea Republic 4-0 but could only manage one-goal victories against China and Australia.

It all came down to the very last match of the tournament to decide whether China or Korea Republic would fill the final Asian berth for Azerbaijan 2012. In the end, a nail-biting affair finished goalless but that was enough to see China home by virtue of goal difference, with Korea Republic left to rue that heavy defeat against their northern neighbours.

New stars burning bright
Several fresh names were influential enough to suggest they could play a key role at Azerbaijan 2012. Chief amongst them were Japan captain Yui Narumiya and Korea DPR striker Ri Un-Sim.

Narumiya was instrumental in the Japan midfield and duly collected the Most Valuable Player of the tournament as she led her side to five straight wins. "I am very happy to have this individual award because I was aiming to be named player of the tournament at the beginning," said Narumiya, who named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year nominee Homare Sawa as her inspiration.

Indeed Narumiya has set her sights on following in the footsteps of Sawa and leading Japan to another world crown. "As a team we will try to become world champions next year," she said. "We now will start preparing for the next stage, for the World Cup."

The sentiments were echoed by Japan coach Hiroshi Yoshida. "We will go to the World Cup with confidence, but I know that there will be many stronger opponents there so it's going to be very tough,” he said. "But for sure I think we have a chance of winning."

Korea DPR striker Ri Un-Sim won the top scorer award with nine goals, including an astonishing seven in a 42-minute burst against Thailand in the Koreans’ final match of the tournament. "I always wanted to do well for my team, but had never imagined that I will become the top scorer of the tournament,” said Ri. “Now my next aim is to be become the top scorer in next year's World Cup and help my team win the cup.”