Host nation Japan have won through to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup semi-finals for the first time after a stunning display to defeat Korea Republic 3-1 in a high-quality encounter in Tokyo.
Slightly cooler conditions greeted teams for the evening kick off and the two sets of players responded with an entertaining and high tempo contest.
A large crowd of nearly 25,000 was on hand to see Japan end a whirlwind first half 3-1 to the good, with the help of a Hanae Shibata brace inside the opening 19 minutes.
Jeoun Eunha replied for Korea Republic either side of Shibata’s two strikes, only for Yoko Tanaka to extend the advantage eight minutes before the interval.
Yeo Minji, the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup adidas Golden Ball and adidas Golden Boot winner, returned to the line-up for Korea Republic after being injured against Nigeria in the opening match, but was ultimately unable to lift her team to victory.
Japan opened with the same dynamic form they had shown against Switzerland four days earlier, and needed just eight minutes to open the scoring. An angled pass from midfield behind the defence was anticipated by Hanae Shibata, who stabbed the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper and into the net.
Korea Republic responded with an excellent move to equalise. Lee Geummin dribbled past her defender on the left side of the penalty area, before chipping a perfect cross for Jeoun Eunha to head home from close range for her fourth goal of the tournament.
However, parity lasted only four minutes as Shibata found space on the edge of the penalty area and rifled home a perfect strike off the post.
The visitors’ hopes suffered another blow before the interval as Tanaka extended the lead. Hikari Tagaki beat one defender and sped towards the byline, before expertly pulling the ball back for Tanaka to sweep into an empty net at the back post.
The match settled into a calmer rhythm in the second half with openings at either end infrequent, and the host nation happy to close out the contest.
Japan will now meet the winner of tomorrow’s quarter-final between Germany and Norway next Tuesday in Tokyo.
"We just reached the peak of a mountain," said Japan coach Hiroshi Yoshida. "Winning a quarter-final means securing two more games for the team. I always say to my players that the opening match and the quarter-final are the most important in a tournament
"There is no big gap between Japan and Korea Republic, we showed our strengths: technical skills and counter-attacks, and also individual skills. This is perhaps what made the difference. If the Korea players improve also individually, they’ll fill this gap."
Korea Republic coach Jong Songchon said: "We tried our best since the start of the first period, with our own qualities, which are similar to Japan’s, but the Japanese were just better in the small details, this made the difference. The problem was not in our style of play, but in the quality of Japan’s play."