INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – Nadeshiko Japan failed to retain the Asian Games title as Norio Sasaki’s side was beaten 3-1 by a tenacious North Korean team in the final on Wednesday.
Kim Yun-mi, Ra Un-sim and Ho Un-byol struck for North Korea, which outhustled and outmuscled the world and Asian champions over the 90 minutes. Captain Aya Miyama pulled one back for Japan in the second half.
Host South Korea defeated Vietnam 3-0 earlier for bronze.
Looking ahead to next year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada, Sasaki left out the over-30 veterans and could not pick the Europe-based players for this competition, seeking to transfuse new blood into the squad.
But the manager refused to use that as an excuse, saying Japan deservedly lost.
“North Korea were stronger attacking the ball and this is a lesson for us,” Sasaki said. “I’m sorry we could not win the title for the second time in a row but we must learn from this and increase our efforts.
“They played to their strengths and won with their style of football. We couldn’t get into a rhythm of any kind, and our experienced players had an off night and didn’t play to their usual capabilities.
“The 3-1 scoreline accurately reflected the performance. We were reminded once again that when you make mistakes, the high quality teams will punish you.”
Miyama echoed Sasaki’s sentiments.
“It would’ve been nice had we played proper football,” she said. “I know North Korea are strong and fast, and so do a few others on the team. But if you ask me if everyone understood that, I’m not so sure.
“As you all saw, their counterattacking game is incredibly good. Their No. 10 (Ra) isn’t the quickest of players, but she executes the break really well. It was perfect.
“It’s disappointing we’re not going home with a gold because that’s we were aiming for. I feel pathetic.”
North Korea are banned from the Women’s World Cup because of a doping infraction, and were determined to win these games.
“We won the final against Japan and this inevitable result is because of our dear and respected Kim Jong-un taking care of our players,” coach Kim Kwang-min said. “The reason for our victory is because we wanted to repay (Kim).”
Japan conceded for the first time this tournament in the 12th minute, when Kim Yun-mi’s deflected shot from a free kick wrong-footed Ayumi Kaihori, beating the goalkeeper at the near post.
North Korea sat back to play Japan on the counterattack and succeeded in doubling their lead after 52 minutes through Ra, who latched on to a long ball from Jon Myong-hwa before hitting past Kaihori into the bottom corner.
Four minutes later, Japan finally managed to mold a goal from all its time on the ball as Miyama pounced on Nahomi Kawasumi’s pass through the penalty area, with Megumi Takase playing the dummy.
But from a Miyama free kick it cleared in the 87th minute, Korea took off on another break. Yun Song-mi ran down the inside-left channel before cutting back from the by-line to Ho, whose crashing header on the run all but ended hopes of a Japanese comeback.
Sasaki said one reason for the lackluster performance may have had to do with the gap between North Korea and the opponents Japan faced through the semifinals.
In the five games leading up to the final, Japan had scored 27 goals and allowed none.
“It’s definitely something I was aware of,” Sasaki said. “We were trying to make the adjustment in training by playing a lot of games within the squad, but it’s hard. It’s hard to reproduce their style of play.”