Sports / Soccer

World champion Japan wins maiden AFC Women's Asian Cup title

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-05-26 18:00

HO CHI MINH CITY - Japan defeated Australia 1- 0 in the final of the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2014 in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh City Sunday evening, becoming champion for the first time of the continental tournament.

Despite having played over 120 minutes in their semi-final against China, Japan's head coach Norio Sasaki named an unchanged starting line-up while the defending champions replaced forward Caitlin Foord with the experienced Kerr, a member of the starting 11 against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the final of Australia's victorious 2010 campaign.

The Matildas almost opened the scoring in the very first minute as Japan's Yuri Kawamura sliced her attempted clearance and Samantha Kerr pounced, only to lift her shot over Miho Fukumoto.

However, the world-champion holder Japan soon regained the field occupancy with their better personal ball-controlling skills. After the initial flurry, Japan began to play their way back into the game and Megumi Takase went close to opening the scoring in spectacular fashion as her overhead kick from Aya Miyama's free- kick required an alert save from Lydia Williams.

After a short period of seesaw back and forth, Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu headed a goal passed by her teammate Utsugi Rumi at the 27th minute in a corner attack.

Although the momentum in the match was then in favor of Japan as their metronomic passing game began to click into gear, Australia was still a threat on the break and shortly before the interval Kerr found plenty of space on the left-hand side to work her way into the penalty area but her dangerous low cross evaded her team-mates and defenders alike.

Starting the second half, the Matildas applied a fast ball passing and with more attacks when possible. However, they were faced with resilient, world-ranked Japan who insisted in maintaining their win to the end of the match.

After coming close on numerous occasions with four runners-ups and three third-place finishes, Japan finally ended 37 years of drought since they first entered the competition in 1977 and broke their Asian Cup jinx, cementing their status as Asia's number one.

"I thought to win the AFC Women's Asian Cup was one of my biggest projects, so the players did a great job. We came here to Vietnam with one aim: to win the tournament. We've done that, so it's mission accomplished," said coach Sasaki, who saw his side come under immense pressure in the first half as Alen Stajcic's side began at a high tempo.

"After getting ahead, maybe we mentally had some problems because we were leading the game and gave away some more chances, but the goalkeeper Fukumoto did a really great job," Sasaki said.

After successfully winning both the World Cup and the AFC Women 's Asian Cup, Sasaki is now intent on one thing: defending the global title.

"For this Asian Cup campaign I couldn't bring some players because of conflicts with their club schedules, but the young players who played instead of them have shown me they have good potential and have experienced good lessons for the future," added Sasaki.

"At the moment there is a gap between our players with World Cup and Olympic Games experience and these new young players, so the task for the next 12 months will be to combine the two groups into one unit if we want to have a successful World Cup next year. "

The Australian coach said the Matildas had more chances but they lacked execution. "In fairness, Japan kept the ball well, defended well and when they had their chance they took it," said Stajcic.

"Japan showed today why they are one of the top teams in the world, but I feel we're not far off them as we drew 2-2 and then only lost 1-0 when we faced them.

"We fought to the death, never gave up and the effort from our players was fantastic," the Australian coach said.

Also on Sunday, China beat South Korea 2-1 in the playoff to secure the third place in this year's Asian cup, the best finish since a runners-up spot at the AFC's tournament in 2008.

Both teams started the game with a tough determination to win a higher rank that speeded up the game from the very first minute. But China enjoyed a self-netted kick by South Korea's forward Park Eun-sun in the third minute and they controlled most of the ball throughout the first half.

China continued to control the game and preserve their win in the second half until the 80th minute when South Korea's forward Yoo Young A equalized the score. However, with their superior physical strength, China's Yang Li scored one more goal in the extra time that fixed up her side's final victory 2-1.

With her latest kick, Yang Li caught up with Park Eun-Sun to led the scoring list of the tournament with six goals. However, only Park was awarded the "Top Goalscorer award" of the tournament as a result of having one more assist than the Steel Roses forward.

Japan captain Aya Miyama was awarded the tournament's "Most Valuable Player" award for her efforts to lead the team to the championship.

The AFC Women's Asian Cup 2014, held in Ho Chi Minh City from May 14 to 25, is contested by eight teams. The top two teams of each group including Australia, China, Japan and South Korea, plus Thailand as winner of the playoff game between two third-ranked teams, will partake the Women's World Cup in Canada in 2015.

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