Japan's joy, Koreas qualify too
© AFC

The recent AFC U-19 Women's Championship, which also served as the Asian qualifiers for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Germany 2010, witnessed the re-emergence of Japan, who won the inaugural competition back in 2002.

After dethroning defending champions Korea DPR in the semi-finals to book their passage to next year's finals, the Young Nadeshiko went on to edge Korea Republic 2-1 in Wednesday's final to recapture the trophy; their first since the success of seven years ago.

Japan's road to the title was a bumpy one. Pitted against strongly favoured hosts China and Australia in the group stage, Norio Sasaki's charges finished second in their section to progress to the last four with two identical 1-1 draws against the two teams either side of a 5-0 thrashing of Chinese Taipei.

Despite their unconvincing progression to the final four, they won the crucial semi-final meeting against Korea DPR with livewire striker Mana Iwabuchi scoring the only goal. In the ensuing final, Iwabuchi made the difference once again by scoring the match and tournament-winning goal three minutes from time after the two sides were locked at 1-1.

"Against all the strong opponents in Asia our team has fought right to the end so I am very pleased with my players who have done their best," said Sasaki.

"Our players played very well and tried their best throughout each of the games. The other three teams that got to the last four are all very strong teams. We are actually very close to each other and this success was not easy for us but we are happy. Now we start from the beginning. We are through to the World Cup so we must prepare for this from now."

Now we start from the beginning. We are through to the World Cup so we must prepare for this from now.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki.

While offering praise to his entire team, Sasaki owed a special vote of thanks to Iwabuchi who scored four times in total and was awarded the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.

"From the beginning to the end we fought very hard and this success in this championship has given confidence to our team and we will now keep on fighting," she said.

"For me to just score goals is my aim for the future but my success has actually come from the efforts of the whole team. Now we prepare for the World Cup and we will try our best to be successful there."

The 16-year-old lit up the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup last year and was rewarded for her fine efforts in 2008 by being named the AFC Women's Youth Player of the Year and she looks destined for big things in the future with the Japanese national team.

Her Korea Republic counterpart Ji So-Yun also hit the headlines by being named as the tournament's top scorer with four goals and one assist. Ji, who also figured prominently in New Zealand 2008, was twice on target in their 5-0 demolition of Thailand before scoring the only goal of the game in the semi-final against China. She struck her fourth from the spot in the final to cancel out Japan's opener only for Iwabuchi to grab the winner.

With Japan and Korea Republic impressing, China had a disappointing campaign which saw the two-time FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup runners-up fail to qualify for Germany 2010.

Boasting five players from the team that beat the eventual champions USA 2-0 in last November's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile, China opened brightly with a 2-0 win over Chinese Taipei before overcoming a resilient Australia side 2-1. In the final group game they held Japan to a 1-1 draw to set up a semi-final meeting with Korea Republic.

With everything seemingly going to plan, their world suddenly began to cave in as they lost the crucial semi final to Korea Republic. The result condemned them to a make-or-break match for third place play-off against the formidable Korea DPR. With their confidence largely dented, the Steel Rosebuds were found wanting as the Koreans ran out 1-0 winners to book Asia's third and final spot at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup finals next year.