Japan dragged themselves back from a goal down to beat defending champions Korea DPR in the second semi-final from the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on Tuesday. Winning out 2-1 and putting on a show of assorted flicks and tricks for the fans in attendance, the stylish East Asians – who scored both of their goals in the space of two second-half minutes – will now meet Korea Republic in the final of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010.
The first half started cautiously as the Japanese set out to match Korea DPR’s well-documented defensive approach. Rather than go all-out in attack – a style that has seen the Nadeshiko score more goals than any other team at these finals – coach Hiroshi Yoshida started ace forward Kumi Yokoyama on the bench, preferring only two in attack. A cracker from the edge of the box by Mai Kyokawa was the first real chance of the game and that effort came bounding back off Choe Kyong Im’s crossbar after 20 minutes.
The Koreans had their first half-chance of the contest a few minutes later when Kim Kum Jong miscued from 12 yards out, the ball bobbling harmlessly wide of Eri Hirao’s goal. Coach Yoshida, perhaps sensing blood in the water, brought on Yokoyama on the half-hour mark in place of midfielder Ayu Nakada. Almost at once, Haruna Kawashima volleyed over from 12 yards out as the Japanese looked more dangerous with three out-and-out attackers on the pitch. Yokoyama then had a go five minutes before the interval, but she failed to test the keeper after cutting inside and slipping past two defenders. Haruka Hamada tried her luck from distance shortly after, but the effort slipped past the post as the half ended in a scoreless stalemate.
The North Koreans came out after the break looking to get forward in attack, with captain O Hui Sun trying a shot from 25 yards that had Hirao back-peddling but flew over the bar in the end. Their coach Ri Song Gun decided to roll the dice for the first time in the competition, bringing on another striker in the form of Kim Yun Mi. The gamble paid off in the 59th minute when the substitute slammed in a low free-kick from 23 yards out. Japan’s captain and keeper fumbled the ball and Kim Kum Jong raced through to finish up.
The Japanese were unfazed by the set-back and began to throw everything into a frenzied hunt for an equaliser. Coming on in waves, they got their leveller in the 69th minute when Hikari Tagaki nodded home Hamada’s cross at the back post. The lively, stylish side then turned the game on its head, going in front just seconds later with a goal of astonishing grace and style. Yokoyama, who coach Yoshida calls the “best player in the team,” got hold of the ball and wriggled past four Korean defenders, raced into the box and fired low and hard past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1.
And there the score remained to the end, despite a late flurry of attack from the North Koreans. Japan, on the strength of their sophisticated attack, will now move into their first FIFA women’s final. They meet up with Korea Republic, who beat Spain earlier in the day, at Trinidad and Tobago 2010’s grand finale on 25 September at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.