AMMAN – Defending champion Japan cruised past China 3-1 on Tuesday to advance to the final of the Women’s Asian Cup, the Asian Football Confederation’s showpiece tournament.
Forward Mana Iwabuchi sent a left-footed rocket off the hands of diving keeper Peng Shimeng in the 39th minute to open the scoring, and a brace from substitute Kumi Yokoyama more than covered Li Ying’s converted penalty in the 90th.
“Our aim was to control the game at our own pace,” manager Asako Takakura said. “There was a moment in the second half when their defense raised the pressure on us, but our substitute (Yokoyama) finished it off and got us the win.”
Yokoyama, who replaced midfielder Yui Hasegawa in the 73rd minute, lobbed her first goal past Peng in the 85th and completed the brace with a powerfully taken penalty kick two minutes later.
“Everyone was worried because I wasn’t getting game time,” said Yokoyama, who played a total of five minutes in the last two matches after starting and scoring in the group stage match against Vietnam.
“I felt like I wanted to go all out for my team.”
Nadeshiko Japan, ranked 11th in the world, are aiming to defend the title they won for the first time four years ago in Vietnam.
Japan will face Australia on Friday, the team it beat to win the 2014 title. The world No. 6 Matildas beat Thailand 3-1 on penalties in the other semifinal Tuesday at King Abdullah II Stadium after finishing extra time at two goals apiece.
Japan booked its ticket to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France with a 1-1 draw against Australia in its final Group B match last Friday. The tournament serves as the official Asian qualifier for the World Cup.
Midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi put Japan ahead in the 63rd minute against Australia in the group stage, before the Matildas equalized with four minutes remaining. Japan goalie Ayaka Yamashita fumbled a shot by Kyah Simon and forward Samantha Kerr fired home the loose ball.
The top five squads at the 21-team Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan — the four semifinalists plus South Korea, the winner of the fifth-place playoff — all qualified for the World Cup.
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