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Japan earns third-place finish in U-20 Women’s World Cup

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Japan survived a wave of late pressure to edge Nigeria 2-1 to claim third place at the Under-20 Women’s World Cup on Saturday, making history with its best ever finish at the tournament.

Free-scoring Yoko Tanaka set the wheels in motion with the opener in energy-sapping heat at National Stadium and Asuka Nishikawa added the second shortly after halftime after coming off the bench to replace Ayaka Michigami.

Desire Oparanozie pulled one back for Nigeria but Japan held on to avenge its defeat to the Africans in the 2010 edition of the tournament, when Young Nadeshiko failed to advance from the group stage while Nigeria reached the final before losing 2-0 to Germany.

“To be able to play and win in front of such of a big crowd has been a really great experience,” said Japan coach Hiroshi Yoshida. “The fact that the players were able to perform so well was very much due to the support from the crowd.”

“We were struggling at the end. I think it is significant that we were able to win by trying to play our game against a physically strong Nigeria team.”

Japan, looking to rebound from its heartbreaking semifinal defeat to the Germans, nearly got off to a dream start when Kumi Yokoyama picked out Michigami after three minutes, but the striker’s first touch let her down and allowed Nigeria goalkeeper Ibubeleye Whyte to make the save at her feet after three minutes.

Nigeria went close seconds later when Oparanozie’s free kick eluded everyone and came off the post, but it was Japan that took the lead with Tanaka’s sixth goal of the tournament.

In the 24th minute, the 19-year-old, on target in every game except the semi defeat to Germany, let fly from 25 meters and although Whyte got a hand to the ball, the shot had too much purchase and nestled just inside the right-hand post.

“I just hit the ball and it went in and I am glad that was able to swing the momentum,” said Tanaka. “Mistakes on our part put us on the back foot and I am pleased that we were able to see the game out.”

The hosts doubled their lead five minutes after the break with a well-worked second, Hanae Shibata threading a through ball to Nishikawa to clip over the advancing Whyte.

“I came on midway through the match so was really determined to score,” said Nishikawa. “Our opponents had the momentum but the whole team defended and held on. Hopefully this will put us in good stead for the future.”

Nigeria hit back through Oparanozie’s free kick with 17 minutes left to set up a tense finish, but despite plenty of late pressure, the Africans were unable to find a way through.

“It was an exciting match but the luck was on the side of the hosts,” said Nigeria coach Okon Edwin. “It’s true that we had a lot of possession but could not take our chances so we will go back home and train hard.”