THE DAY REPLAYED – Before today, only two teams had reached the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup final more than once. Now that same duo can look ahead to a third after Korea DPR and Japan made light work of Venezuela and Spain respectively in the last four.
Though the Asians had begun the day as narrow favourites, few would have seen them achieving identically resounding 3-0 victories over such formidable semi-final opponents. Yet it was with a degree of ease that they reached the showpiece match of Jordan 2016, with the North Koreans silencing the erstwhile irrepressible Deyna Castellanos before the holders, even without several star players, cruised past the team they beat to take the title two years ago.
Now another final rematch awaits as Japan and Korea DPR meet for the first time since battling it out for the Asian title last November.
Venezuela 0-3 Korea DPR
Spain 0-3 Japan
Goal of the day
Venezuela-Korea DPR, Kim Pom-Ui, 15
Though speed and movement were the Korean attributes that most tormented Venezuela, the South Americans fell behind to a goal that was all down to power and precision. Kim Pom-Ui was its scorer, snatching on a loose ball to crash in a 25-yard curler that could not have been better judged, flashing into the top corner off the inside of the left-hand post.
Familiarity breeds success
The different ways in which squads have been utilised at this tournament has made for fascinating viewing, and Korea DPR have bucked the established trend. While most coaches have shuffled their packs, Sin Jong-Bok has made stability the cornerstone of his team's campaign. The Korean coach again declined to tinker today, sticking firmly to the line-up that had seen off Ghana in the last eight. In doing so, he gave no fewer than ten of his players their fifth successive start of this tournament, and was fully vindicated in doing so. The Asian champions played with a cohesiveness and understanding that reflected their coach's approach and, whatever doubts there may be over Friday's final, Korea DPR's starting XI will not, it seems, be among them.
But rotation works too!
In the opposing camp is Naoki Kusunose. The Japan coach played all 21 of his squad members during the group phase and his rotation system has continued unabated in the knockout rounds. Against Spain, it entailed Kusunose leaving out stars such as Saori Takarada, Hinata Miyazawa and, most surprisingly of all, Riko Ueki - player of the match in three of her team's four matches prior to this evening. Yet amid all these changes, Japan's standards and style of play remains unaltered, as does their ability to rack up win after win.
Taking a bow
There were joyful scenes at the end of Korea DPR's win over Venezuela when the players formed an impromptu circle to honour their goalscorers. Clapping in unison, they urged first Kim Pom-Ui, then Ja Un-Yong and finally Ri Hae-Yon into the centre of the ring, where all three shyly but smilingly bowed before their cheering colleagues. All three were well deserving of such adulation. After all, Kim and Ja had just struck for the second knockout match in a row, having been responsible for the goals that eliminated Ghana in the last eight. As for Ri, she is now Jordan 2016's joint-top scorer, the skilful No10's five-goal haul having taken her level with Deyna Castellanos and Lorena Navarro.
The thought of speaking in public would be daunting enough for most teenagers. Add in a stadium of strangers and a posse of photographers and TV cameramen, and it might seem to take on nightmarish proportions. But the team captains who took up the microphone, marking FIFA Fair Play Day with an accompanying message in their respective languages, did so with remarkable poise and confidence. Japan's Fuka Nagano even managed a smile and rousing shout at the end of her speech. Crucially, all players present then went on to practice what their skippers had preached, displaying the sportsmanship and comradeship that has been evident throughout these finals.
11 - Seeing off Spain means that Japan have now won a record 11 successive matches at the U-17 Women's World Cup. To put that achievement in context, no-one else has managed more than four-in-a-row. The Little Nadeshiko have strung together those wins in some style too, scoring 42 goals and conceding just three in reply. But if you think the holders are invincible, think again. They did, after all, suffer a notable defeat in the AFC Asian U-16 Championship late last year. Their conquerors? None other than Korea DPR.
"The sentiment for us is not so much sadness as feeling unsatisfied; feeling that we could have done better."
Kenneth Zseremeta, Venezuela coach
Friday 21 October (all times local)
Korea DPR-Japan, 20.00