OSAKA – Nadeshiko Japan is in need of a miracle to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after the former world champion lost 2-1 to China on Friday.
Zhang Rui and Gu Yasha struck for China before Japan pulled one back through Kumi Yokoyama, which proved insufficient for the Asian champion.
Japan has just one point from three games in the six-team, round-robin qualifying tournament. Australia, on a perfect nine points, fortified its lead with a 2-0 win over South Korea with China trailing on seven points.
After edging Vietnam 1-0, North Korea sits in third place with five points, followed by South Korea on two points.
“I feel really bad for the fans but as long as there is still a possibility (that we can qualify) I want us all to fight in the last two games,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.
“We were chasing the game and found ourselves in a situation where we just could not click. In any case, we can’t let our heads drop and (we) want to make an effort in the next two games. The most important thing is to reset mentally.”
Japan sorely needed a strong start to the game with its back against the wall, but instead was staring at a deficit by the 14th minute.
An ill-advised back pass from midfielder Yuri Kawamura set up Zhang for a one-on-one with goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto, and the Chinese striker promptly capitalized as sighs filled Kincho Stadium all around.
Japan struggled to respond despite having the bulk of possession, settling for just one shot well off target by Aya Sameshima before the intermission. Kawamura, who looked shaky throughout the first half, was benched at the break for Mana Iwabuchi.
Captain Aya Miyama forced a save from Zhao Lina in the first minute of the second half, trying to turn the tide for the hosts, but China pulled away three minutes to the hour through Gu, whose deflected shot from 20 meters out sailed into the top right corner.
Japan finally found the net in the 65th minute, when Yokoyama mopped up a loose ball inside the box before blasting past Zhao to make it 2-1, but it was too little too late.
“I’m sorry for the fans who’ve been supporting us,” said Miyama. I don’t feel we haven’t been doing well throughout the three games, it’s just not being able to get that result.
“We’ve been playing for all we are worth but the result showed we are lacking something.”