- Japan and Korea DPR both qualify for India 2020
- The former dethroned the latter to claim their fourth Asian title
- Japanese starlets bagged both tournament MVP and top-scorer awards
Japan came from a goal down to defeat holders Korea DPR 2-1 in Saturday's 2019 AFC U-16 Women's Championship final in Chonburi, Thailand to clinch the title. A quick-fire double in a space of four first-half minutes saw coach Michihisa Kano's side recover from an early conceded goal to prevail.
Both teams entered the tournament’s ultimate match with their qualifying missions already completed. Japan saw off China PR 2-0 and Korea DPR dispatched Australia 3-0 in the semi-finals as the two sides sealed their places in the final and thus booked the qualification for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup India 2020, joining the South Asian hosts at the global showpiece.
Having each emerged victorious on the continental scene three times and playing free from the qualifying tasks, both sides went onto the pitch seeking to become the first team to lift the trophy on four occasions.
Hwang Yong Song's side got off to a dream start with Hong Song-ok putting the defending champions in front with a penalty inside nine minutes. The Japanese did, however, hit back hard with Suzu Amano drawing level on 19 minutes before Manaka Hayashi struck the match- and tournament-winning goal four minutes later.
"After we conceded a spot-kick early on, our players remained calm and they read the game very well," coach Kano explained post-match. "We equalised and then scored the second to win the game because the players trained to be able to deal with high pressure."
Japan’s record at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup:
- 2008: Quarter-finals
- 2010: Runners-up
- 2012: Quarter-finals
- 2014: Champions
- 2016: Runners-up
- 2018: Quarter-finals
Road to India
It came as little surprise that Japan and Korea DPR booked their tickets for India 2020, considering their status as two of the most successful teams not only in Asia but across the globe.
Korea DPR kept a clean slate en route to the final. They struck 17 times and conceded zero goals during the group stage (10-0 Vietnam SR, 4-0 China, 3-0 Korea Republic) to reach the last four, where they brushed aside Australia to seal World Cup qualification.
Japan, though, had to bounce back from a goalless opening draw against Australia to progress with a pair of overwhelming victories (9-0 Bangladesh, 8-0 Thailand). They may have met a stern test against China in the semi-final encounter, but two late goals from Hanan Nishio and Maika Hamano handed them an all-important triumph.
Aside from winning the tournament, Japan became the biggest winners in terms of individual awards with Hamano finishing the tournament's top-scorer with five goals and Nishio earning the Most Valued Player award.
A trio of Korea DPR players in Hong Song-ok, Kim Hye-yong and Myong Yu-jong shared the second top-scorer place with four goals each, but it was the former who came to prominence thanks to her powerful pile-drivers. Notably, she struck a spectacular 40-yarder against Vietnam before netting against Korea Republic with a thumping free-kick.
Elsewhere, also worth mentioning was Australia's Hana Lowry who bagged three goals for the Junior Matildas. China’s Zou Mengyao emerged the team’s biggest revelation after scoring twice, including striking the match-winner in the 2-1 victory against Australia in the third-place playoff.
Korea DPR’s record at FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups:
- 2008: Champions
- 2010: Fourth place
- 2012: Runners-up
- 2014: Group stage
- 2016: Champions
- 2018: Quarter-finals