- Japan, Korea DPR, China PR reach U-20 Women’s World Cup
- Japan win Asian U-19 title for a record fifth time
- Sung Hyangsim clinches Golden Boot and MVP awards
Riko Ueki struck the only goal as Japan edged Korea DPR in Saturday's 2017 AFC U-19 Women's Championship final to retain the Asian title in Nanjing, China PR. The success, which marks the defending champions' fifth triumph, further cements the Japanese reputation as the most accomplished outfit on the continental scene.
In a fiercely contested final, Korea DPR, holders of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, began pointedly. However, it was the Japanese who broke the deadlock five minutes after the restart, with the impressive Ueki cutting into the area to complete a wonderful solo effort.
Korea DPR hit back hard as they sought an equalizer, but their lack of accuracy saw chances go begging. Japan, meanwhile, came close to doubling the lead with Honoka Hayashi rattling the crossbar.
"Korea DPR are strong," reflected winning coach Futoshi Ikeda post-match. "But our players didn’t mind that we were playing against them. The only thing that mattered was to win the game and the tournament. Now we are champions of Asia and next we will be prepared for the World Cup."
The qualified trio
With the tournament also serving as qualifying for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018, the top-three finishers, namely Japan, Korea DPR and hosts China, have earned the right to represent Asia at the global showpiece next year.
Ikeda's Japan had a smooth campaign, reaching the World Cup in scintillating fashion. They won their group with three straight wins, routing Vietnam 8-0 in the opener and hammering Australia 5-1 before sweeping past Korea Republic 2-0. They would continue the unstoppable form in the all-important semi-final clash against the tournament hosts, firing five unanswered goals to secure their place at France 2018 as well as in the final.
Even more impressive were Korea DPR, who were the only team not to concede en route to the final. They opened with a 9-0 demolition of Thailand before defeating both Uzbekistan and China by identical 2-0 scorelines. An emphatic 3-0 semi-final win against Australia booked their World Cup spot.
Hosts China reached the last four courtesy of group victories against Uzbekistan and Thailand, despite the loss to Korea DPR. They may have been found lacking against Japan in the semi-final encounter but, cheered on by the home supporters, they sealed their return to the U-20 World Cup by defeating Australia 3-0.
The continental campaign saw the emergence of a host of young talents, many of whom should be among the players to watch at France 2018, particularly considering Asian teams' brilliant performances during past editions.
Topping the list is Korea DPR forward Sung Hyangsim, who proved the biggest revelation after finishing as the tournament top-scorer and Most Valued Player. The diminutive attacker dazzled viewers through her goals and pacey runs up the flanks, netting six times.
Saori Takarada may have finished as Japan's top-scorer with five goals, but it was Ueki who caught the most attention. She demonstrated her fine attacking skills, showing supreme confidence in front of the goal, including keeping her cool to slot home the match- and tournament-winning goal.
Having won the Youth Olympic Girls' Tournament at 2014 Nanjing, Jin Kun is now one of China's on-song young stars after helping the team to France 2018. Deployed as a full-back three years ago, Kun’s attacking flair has seen her converted into an attacking midfielder. She has thrived in her new role, hitting the target against Australia.
21 - The goals Japan have scored in all five games en route to the title, averaging over four goals per match.
Do you know?
For the first time in history, Korea DPR have progressed to their seventh FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup under a foreign head coach in German Thomas Gerstner.