- Japan conquered all to win second Asian Games gold
- China PR reached final for first time since 2002
- Wang Shanshan struck nine nine times in single group game
Japan followed up their title-winning performances in April's AFC Women's Asian Cup by clinching their second gold in the 2018 Asian Games women's football tournament. Yuika Sugasawa headed home the only goal of the final in the last minute against China PR in Palembang, Indonesia as Asako Takakura's Nadeshiko recaptured the title which they last claimed eight years ago.
Since sealing qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France™ earlier this year, Japan have embarked on preparing for the global showpiece. This Asian Games understandably provided their coach Takakura with the chance to test different players with a host of new faces called up into the squad. Despite the fresh blend, it proved a successful campaign for Japan with their new-look side winning all five matches en route to the title.
They had few problems during the group phase, defeating Thailand 2-0 before routing Vietnam 7-0 to reach the last eight. A 2-1 victory against holders Korea DPR sent them to the semi-finals where they went on to eliminate Korea Republic by the same scoreline.
Japan's real test came in the final against a much-improved China who threatened throughout. The Japanese were on the back foot for the majority of the game but showcased their trademark resilience and composure to keep their rivals at bay before Sugasawa delivered the winning strike.
Despite losing the final in unexpected fashion, China - under new coach Jia Xiuquan - did have a memorable campaign. The Steel Roses kept a clean sheet during the group stage, scoring a superlative 25 goals against the likes of Hong Kong, Tajikistan and Korea DPR to progress to the last eight. They put five unanswered goals past Thailand before sinking Chinese Taipei by a solitary goal to seal their return to the final for the first time since 2002.
In what proved to be a rematch of the Women's Asian Cup semi-finals, China looked a different side in comparison to their meeting four months ago. The previous match saw the Chinese lose 3-1 in a game largely dominated by their opponents, but they took the game to their longtime rivals this time around. Capitalising on their physical strengths and progressive team play, Jia's side pressed hard and carved out far more chances, only to be punished by their profligacy in front of goal.
Korea Republic finished third with Ji Soyun remaining the team's key attacker. The Chelsea Women midfielder scored four times as they stormed to semi-finals, where they were defeated by Japan. They then demolished Chinese Taipei 4-0 in the third-place playoff to clinch bronze.
With the top three sides looking ahead to France 2019 with some positive moments, there were lessons to be learned by Thailand. The team, who impressed in the Women's Asian Cup by holding Australia 2-2 in regular and extra time, finished the tournament with zero points. They lost 2-0 to Japan before being edged out 3-2 by Vietnam, results suggesting that they will have to improve if they are to be competitive at the global finals next year.
Yuika Sugasawa finished as Japan's top-scorer with four goals as she became the side's biggest revelation in this campaign. With superb predatory talents, the 27-year-old provides the coach with new options in the attacking third. With the influential Mana Iwabuchi closely marked by their rivals, Sugasawa's pace and finishing ability proved the key for the team to emerge victorious.
At 23 years old, Wang Shuang has been hailed as the player to spearhead China for years to come. The midfielder, who recently completed a high-profile move to Paris Saint-Germain, duly lived up to those expectations through her eye-catching play-making displays. Besides providing the assists for her team mates, she racked up six goals to finish as the tournament's second top-scorer.
12 was the number of goals scored by Wang Shanshan as the Chinese forward finished the tournament's top-scorer. Notably, she struck nine times against Tajikistan as a second-half substitute, a total for one match that - unsurprisingly - was not bettered by any other player at the tournament.
What they said
"We seized the opportunity [and won the final] against a strong China. They have made big progress and pressed very hard throughout. But our players weathered the storm and we defended well. We didn't allow them to convert their chances. We will continue to work towards our goals," Japan head coach Asako Takakura