France are into their first FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup final after a 2-1 extra-time victory ended the hopes of in-form Japan.
All the action was crammed into the 30 additional minutes with France hitting a quickfire double against the run of play, before some heroic defending ensured Japan’s comeback was limited to one goal.
France will now meet Korea DPR in Saturday's final, hoping to make it two wins out of two against Asian opposition in Papua New Guinea.
Actually it was Japan who had the better of the game's early exchanges and came close to opening the scoring, albeit inadvertently when Rin Sumida’s cross clipped the top of the crossbar.
Japan’s leading scorer Mami Ueno created an opening but fired straight into the hands of goalkeeper Mylene Chavas. France for their part, invariably looked dangerous down the flanks or on the counter-attack.
Though far from an overtly physical match, there were several injury blows. France lost dynamic full-back Sakina Karchaoui after a nasty head clash, while Japan saw Asato Miyagawa replaced with a serious looking wrist injury. And there was more bad news after the break for Japan with Ueno exiting on a stretcher after a blow to the leg.
Japan continued to have the better of things after the break, putting pressure on the France defence, and restricting their opponents’ attempts to hold the ball. But for all Japan’s domination in possession, France’s back-four, who have conceded just twice in the tournament, were resolute once again.
But the longer the contest remained goalless, the more it seemed that France could snatch a win. Incredibly, having barely troubled Japan goalkeeper Chika Hirao, they somehow managed to score twice in as many minutes.
Nine minutes into injury time, Marion Romanelli weighted a perfect cross and Clara Mateo rose between two defenders to head home.
And the France contingent in the Sir John Guise stadium were sent into ecstasy when midfielder Juliane Gathrat lashed home a loose ball, after Louise Fleury’s run caused chaos in the Japan penalty area.
Gathrat then turned villain bundling over an opponent to concede a spot-kick. France goalkeeper Chavas initially stopped Yuka Momiki’s penalty, only to push the ball over the line as she attempted to reach back and claim the ball off the goalline.
Live Your Goals player of the match: Hawa Cissoko (France)