Soccer

Nadeshiko wins Asian Cup again

Kyodo, Reuters

Japan won its second straight Women’s Asian Cup on Friday night with a 1-0 victory over Australia in the tournament final.

Substitute Kumi Yokoyama scored the 84th-minute winner at Amman International Stadium in a replay of the 2014 final, when Nadeshiko Japan edged the Matildas 1-0.

Japan was on defense for the majority of the match as Australia took 22 shots to Nadeshiko’s five. Japan, however, converted one of its few chances after Yokoyama was introduced in the 72nd minute.

The forward received the ball from Yui Hasegawa and dribbled between two opponents before driving it into the top corner of the net from about 17 meters.

“I knew before I got (the pass) that it was coming. But I’m surprised myself,” said Yokoyama, who scored four goals at the tournament.

Nadeshiko ‘keeper Ayaka Yamashita gave a stellar performance, saving a penalty and denying multiple close-range attempts by the Matildas. She stopped shots by Sam Kerr and Lisa De Vanna right before saving Elise Kellond-Knight’s attempt from the spot.

The victory gave head coach Asako Takakura her first major international title since taking the job in April 2016.

“It was a very close match,” Takakura said. “We struggled for a while in the match, but I want to congratulate the girls for winning by playing with persistence.

“When I was a player, I was focused on myself to become the best player, but now as a coach I’m trying to help the players to develop and also trying to develop women’s football in Japan,” stated Takakura.

“In this tournament we played in the Japanese way and won the title, and that gives us confidence, but I can go further and I must go further, so let’s see what happens.

“We knew since the beginning that the match tonight would be the difficult one, and I believe it was a match worth watching and one of the best matches that Asia can show at this moment,” commented Takakura.

“I’m proud to have such a great match against one of the best countries in Asia and in the world — Australia.”

Japan and Australia have both qualified for the Women’s World Cup finals in France next year, where they will be joined by China, Thailand and South Korea.

Nadeshiko striker Mana Iwabuchi was named the tournament’s most valuable player after scoring two goals and playing the full 90 minutes in each of Nadeshiko’s five matches.

Japan and Australia faced each other in their final Group B match last week, a 1-1 draw that earned both teams qualification to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

Nadeshiko Japan, ranked 11th in the world, advanced to the final by beating eight-time champion China 3-1 in Tuesday’s semifinal.

Australia had a harder time reaching the final, beating Thailand 3-1 on penalties after their semi was deadlocked 2-2 at the end of extra time.

China settled for third after a 3-1 victory over Thailand in the playoff for third place.