South Korea stuns Japan; North Korea grabs Women’s East Asian Cup title

South Korea shocked reigning Women’s World Cup champion Japan, winning 2-1 in the last East Asian Cup women’s match on Saturday and helping neighbor North Korea claim its first title at the regional event.

Striker Ji So-yun scored both South Korean goals at Seoul’s Jamsil Olympic Stadium, as the hosts won for the first time at this year’s event and denied Japan its third consecutive East Asian Cup title.

Earlier on Saturday, North Korea defeated China 1-0 to end the tournament on seven points.

Japan entered the final showdown with four points and needed a victory to clinch seven points and beat North Korea on goal difference.

“The players tried their hardest, but at the end South Korea had more desire to win,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaski.

“We tried to fix the things that needed fixing in each of our three games and we didn’t play that badly today but could not get the win.”

Captain Aya Miyama struggled to hold back tears in the post-match interview.

“We were no good. We made life difficult for ourselves. We could not win a game we had to win. We were just not good enough.”

South Korea, losers of the first two matches, was the heavy underdog against Japan, which brought back 16 members from its 2011 Women’s World Cup-winning squad.

The hosts, though, played with more fire on both ends than it’d shown in previous matches, and struck first on Ji’s free kick in the 13th.

From right of the arc, Ji — who plays in Japan’s Nadeshiko League — drilled her free kick over the Japanese wall and into the top right hand corner, out of ‘keeper Ayumi Kaihori’s reach.

Japan struggled against the physical South Korean defense and failed to record a shot on net in the opening 45 minutes.

With North Korean players watching from the stands, South Korea appeared content with the one-goal advantage to start the latter half.

In the 57th minute, Jeon Ga-eul just missed the far corner with a floating shot from the left edge of the box.

But South Korea doubled its advantage in the 66th with Ji’s second successful strike of the match. She took a cross from Kwon Hah-nul from right and capitalized on confusion in Japan’s defense to put it past Kaihori once more.

Japan cut the deficit in half in the 72nd minute, as Yuki Ogimi scored on her own rebound. The goal breathed new life into Japan, which dominated the ball in the final stretch of the game.

In the 80th, Kozue Ando shot one off the far post from the left edge of the box. Six minutes later, Mizuho Sakaguchi nearly scored with South Korean keeper Kim Jung-mi out of position, but midfielder Kim Soo-yun headed the shot out of play.