- Korea DPR win their third Asian U-16 Women's Championship
- Korea Republic seal return to U-17 Women's World Cup
- Korea DPR, Korea Republic, Japan have won seven editions between them
The curtain was brought down on Asia's qualifiers for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018 on Saturday, with Korea DPR retaining the title after defeating Korea Republic 2-0 in the final.
Ri Sujong opened the scoring seven minutes before half-time and Kim Kyongyong doubled the lead four minutes from full time as the defending champions prevailed in the 2017 AFC U16 Women’s Championship final. The victory for Korea DPR completes a continental hat-trick and brings them level with Japan’s record as three-time winners.
Having secured their qualification to Uruguay 2018 with semi-final victories against China PR and Japan respectively, both Korea DPR and Korea Republic entered the tournament's ultimate match with their sights fixed firmly on being crowned Asian champions. However, it was Song Sunggwon's holders that truly underlined their status as Asia's best team, outmuscling their neighbours to lift the trophy.
Elsewhere, Japan and China were pitted in the important third-place play-off. Despite the disappointment of their semi-final loss, the Young Nadeshiko bounced back to defeat the Chinese by a solitary goal, joining the two finalists at Uruguay 2018.
Titanic trio *
It was no big surprise that the big trio of *Korea DPR, *Korea Republic *and *Japan *finished as the top three and earned the right to represent Asia at the next World Cup. After all, these are the three sides that have combined to win all seven editions of the AFC U-16 Women's Championship since its inauguration in 2005. Japan and Korea DPR have proved the most successful having each completed a treble, while Korea Republic were crowned once in 2009.
Korea DPR started the tournament brightly with what proved to be the biggest win, a 9-0 demolition of Bangladesh. They went on to send Australia packing with a 7-0 win, a result that secured their progression despite losing the closing group match to Japan 2-1. They proved to be the dominant side from outset in their semi-final 1-0 victory against China and could have won by a much bigger margin had it not been for the lack of luck and accuracy in front of goal.
Korea Republic, for their part, demonstrated resilience as they sealed their return to the U-17 Women's World Cup. They made a slow start to the tournament with a 2-2 draw against China, but managed to finish among the top two after defeating hosts Thailand 3-0 and Laos 7-0 respectively. They emerged the surprise winners in their semi-final encounter against a hotly-tipped Japan, coming from behind to draw 1-1 before winning the penalty shoot-out to seal their place in the final and book their ticket to Uruguay 2018.
Pre-tournament favourites Japan had few problems in the group phase where they eased past Australia 5-0 and Bangladesh 3-0 before overcoming Korea DPR 2-1 to progress to the knockout stage as the only team with an unblemished record. Naoki Kusunose's side were, however, dealt with a severe blow in the semi-finals by Korea Republic. But they quickly pulled themselves through and completed their qualifying mission by winning the third-place play-off against China, Momo Nakao striking the only goal which sealed their passage through.
Korea DPR forward Kim Kyongyong finished as the tournament's top scorer with nine goals, including striking five times in the 9-0 rout of Bangladesh. However, providing the team with leadership was captain Ri Sugyong, who scored five times, notably netting the goal that sealed their place in the final as well as at Uruguay 2018.
Also catching great attention was Korea Republic's dynamic goal-getter Cho Mijin. Usually deployed up front as a striker, she was handed a midfield role with tasks of also shoring up the defense during the tournament. The new role, however, did not prevent the 16-year-old from showcasing her predatory talents. She finished as the team's top scorer with five goals and most importantly, she grabbed the equaliser in the 1-1 draw against Japan before going on to convert the spot-kick in the subsequent penalty shoot-out which sealed their qualification.
It proved a tournament where Japan forward Tomoko Tanaka thrived in her newly-found super-sub role, having come off the bench to score three of her four goals, including opening the scoring against Korea Republic. And she proved more than capable of finding the back of the net in the only two matches she started, grabbing the player of the match award against Bangladesh before having a hand in the match-winning goal against China.
Even the Chinese have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future despite narrowly missing out on a place at next year's World Cup. Both Tang Han and Zhang Linyan finished as the team's joint top scorers with four goals apiece, while Han Huimin proved a cornerstone at the back. "I think we played a few matches the way we wanted to," China coach Gao Hong reflected on their near-miss. "We showed our playing style and our players also explored their character on the pitch. We need more quality games to give them more experience. They have huge potential."