Korea DPR recaptured the continental laurels they lost two years ago as they overcame China 2-1 on Sunday in the final of the 2008 AFC Women's Championship.
Defending champions China took the lead through Bi Yan's blistering long shot after only eleven minutes, but Korea DPR equalised on 57 minutes through captain Ri Kum-Suk, who scored her seventh goal to top the tournament scoring chart. The Koreans dominated the remainder of the game, forward Kim Yong-Ae scoring from a rebound to seal the victory with 22 minutes left on the clock.
"We got the victory because we showed plenty of spirit and technical ability," said a calm Korea DPR coach Kim Kwang-Min. " "
A tale of two rivals
Since their emergence in the 1990's, Korea DPR have won the continental championship on three occasions, each time disposing of China along the way.
Their first victory over the Steel Roses was in the semi-final of Chinese Taipei 2001, where the Koreans won 3-1, a result which brought the curtain down on China's unparalleled sequence of seven consecutive continental titles. In the next edition, they successfully defended the title with a 2-1 win over China in the final. The two sides met again in a semi-final clash at the previous tournament two years ago, with China prevailing with a solitary goal to reach the final, where they defeated hosts Australia to recover the title they had once considered their permanent possession.
Having developed an intense rivalry over the past decade, the two sides had their horns locked again in the group stage of this year's AFC Women's Championship in Vietnam. A Ri Un-Gyong strike in the first half sent Korea DPR through to the last four with an unblemished record, while China, despite the 1-0 loss, qualified for the semi-finals thanks to their opening wins over Vietnam and Thailand.
Coach Kim's charges continued their impressive winning form in the semi-finals, putting three unanswered goals past Australia. For their part, China came from a goal down to power past Japan 3-1, to set up a return encounter with the Koreans in the decider.
Despite the near miss in the final, China coach Shang Ruihua wasn't disappointed. "This has been the best game for us in the Asian Cup," said Shang, who took over from Frenchwoman Elisabeth Loisel only a couple of months ago. "Although before the game we had expected that we could defend our Asian title, DPR Korea proved to be the better side."
"However, the players played at their best throughout. I believe we are going in the right direction, and we will improve before the Olympic Games," he concluded.
Japan on the up
The eight-team tournament staged in Ho Chi Minh City from 1-8 June, however, was by no means just about the two finalists. Both Japan and Australia impressed during the group stage, while Korea Republic showed that they are more than capable of mounting a serious challenge to the established teams.
Japan, winners of this March's EAFF Championship, opened up with an 11-0 demolition of Chinese Taipei. Despite going down to Korea Republic 3-1 in a dramatic contest, they bested Australia by the same score to round off the group campaign. After going down to China in the semi-finals, coach Norio Sasaki's outfit won the rematch with Australia 3-0 to clinch the bronze medal.
Homare Sawa played a pivotal role throughout with Japan, scoring twice, including the third goal against Australia in the playoff. The 29-year-old's creative contribution with Japan didn't go unnoticed, as she was crowned the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
For coach Sasaki, however, it was even more important for the young players to gain the necessary international experience. "We now look towards the Olympics, and I believe this tournament has been good for us," he said. "While our older players proved the consistent performers, I am very happy at how the younger players have grown."