The six-nation AFC U-19 Women’s Championship featured familiar names battling it out for the right to be crowned continental champions, and once again Japan and Korea DPR dominated the field to come out on top. It has become a familiar theme in Asian youth football across recent years, and is also a repeat of the one-two finish achieved by the pair in last month’s qualifying for the 2012 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.
China PR will join the duo in representing Asia at the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup next August and September in Uzbekistan. It is a welcome return to the world stage for the Steel Rosebuds after falling to reach Germany 2010, while the senior team missed this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ for the first time. Failing short of a top-three finish in the tournament, which concluded on Sunday, were Germany 2010 semi-finalists Korea Republic, Australia and host nation Vietnam.
Elite maintain momentum
Reigning champions Japan retained their title although they had to recover from an opening day 1-1 draw against China, which gave Korea DPR the early running thanks to their 2-1 victory over neighbours Korea Republic. The duo ultimately won their three remaining matches meaning the showdown between the pair would decide the destiny of the 2011 title. Japan appeared to be cruising with a two-goal buffer, although a predictably resilient Korea DPR staged a late comeback but could only pull one goal back through Yun Hyon Hi.
"At the beginning, I said qualifying for the World Cup was the main aim and then after three matches, Korea DPR and Vietnam became two important matches for the title," said Japan coach Hiroshi Yoshida. "We achieved our first goal and then I started thinking about the title so the last two matches against Korea DPR and Vietnam, to win those two matches was the second objective that we achieved.
“I hope the players get more self-confidence from this victory. They solved problems by themselves so this is satisfying for me that they could grow through the tournament by themselves.”
Despite not achieving their stated aim of winning the title, Korea DPR should take comfort from their displays, particularly on the back of a disappointing 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The North Koreans recorded consistent performances, perhaps most notably a 4-0 victory against China to conclude the tournament. The signs are that Korea DPR could be approaching the kind of form which saw them win the 2006 U-20 World Cup in stunning fashion, and follow up with a narrow loss in the final at Chile 2008.
Neighbours Korea Republic finished just one point shy of qualification and, therefore, the opportunity to repeat their ground-breaking run to the Germany 2010 semi-finals. Coach Choi Duck-Joo can console himself with an impressive 4-2 victory against Australia to conclude the tournament with a positive goal difference.
Undoubtedly the most disappointing team were Australia who, after a hard-fought 4-3 win against hosts Vietnam in their opening match, lost their remaining four outings. It was a surprising outcome for a team that included a host of young stars from Germany 2011, including Emily van Egmond, Teigen Allen and Caitlin Foord, although the latter, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Hyundai Best Young Player recipient, missed several matches through injury.
Young stars rising
Mai Kyokawa confirmed her status as a star of the future with a five goal haul helping her to the tournament’s most valuable player award, and also the top goalscorer crown, shared with Korea DPR's Yun Hyon-Hi. The Japan No10 already has the AFC U-16 top goalscorer award in her trophy cabinet from two years ago.
Kyokawa, along with the likes of Kumi Yokoyama who scored a hat-trick in the final match against Vietnam, will certainly be names to watch next year in Uzbekistan, and perhaps even as the Japan senior team seek to retain their FIFA Women’s World Cup crown in Canada. “Next year we have the World Cup so I will try to be in the national team again and then, I will try to be a member of the Japan senior national team,” said Kyokawa. “I will do my best to be selected and work to improve day by day.”