HO CHI MINH CITY - Japan defeated defending champion Australia 1-0 in the on Sunday to win their first Women’s Asian Cup.
Nadeshiko Japan manager Norio Sasaki claimed the title in his third try in the tournament, which doubled as a qualifier for next year’s World Cup in Canada.
“It was a tough match but the players really fought hard,” said Sasaki. “During today’s meeting we discussed how important it was for us to get this cup and for that reason the players were able to realize their goal.
“This was my third challenge and the third time was the charm.”
Azuza Iwashimizu opened the scoring with a header on 28 minutes, and the reigning World Cup champions dominated on offense for the majority of the first half with Australia getting few opportunities for shots on goal.
Captain Aya Miyama flicked out to midfield on a corner kick, and Rumi Utsugi sent the ball sailing with her left foot toward the net, where Iwashimizu headed it off an Australian player as the ball deflected over the line — Homare Sawa putting in an unnecessary final touch with her head.
“This was a title I really wanted to get and now it’s finally dawning on me that we won,” said Iwashimizu. “That was a great kick from Utsugi and I just happened to touch it. I didn’t really know what happened. It was hard to get the Asian title. We couldn’t have done it without everyone pulling together,” she said.
Australia’s frustration began to grow early when Michelle Heyman checked Sawa hard with her back. The former captain, who was slow to get up from the pitch, was checked again in the second half but laughed it off that time.
The Aussies gradually began to see more time on offense after the break and continued to try to run their opponents ragged.
Heyman kicked a bullet from midrange that keeper Miho Fukumoto was in perfect position to catch, and try as they might, the Aussies couldn’t find the net despite a slew of chances.
Australia, which played Japan to a 2-2 draw in the group stage earlier in the tournament, had a goal negated in the second half after Samantha Kerr was called offside.