Asian Games: Late winner secures women’s football gold for Japan

A goal at the death secured the Japan women’s soccer squad a 1-0 win against China in the final in Palembang on Friday, and their second-ever Asian Games gold medal.

The goal, scored in the 90th minute by Yuika Sugasawa in the pouring rain at JSC Gelora Sriwijaya, crushed China’s hopes of winning a record fourth Asian Games women’s soccer title.

The severe conditions left the teams struggling to string any coherent play together, but China managed to conjure the best chances.

Most of the action in the first half took place in front of the goal with world No. 17 China dominating possession, with half of their eight shots on target. Japan keeper Ayaka Yamashita saved the day by holding off powerful strikes coming from China forward Li Ying.

A 75th-minute left-foot strike from Gu Yasha was China’s most promising foray forward, but Yamashita got her fingertips to the shot and tipped it just over the bar.

The goal came on the break. With the Japanese team streaming forward, Sugasawa got on the end of an Emi Nakajima cross and hit a glancing header to the left of China’s goalkeeper Zhao Lina.

(Yuika Sugasawa, 2nd from left, is congratulated by teammates after scoring)

«China has been improving remarkably, and they held the pace from the beginning to into the second-half of the game. The players remained calm and endured, and made use of the few chances we had,» Japan head coach Asako Takakura said.

«We won because of the strong motivation from the players.»

Nadeshiko Japan beat China 3-1 in their previous faceoff at April’s Asian Cup in Jordan, but this time, China put their speed to full use to make it a tight game.

«Statistically, we dominated the match, but it’s a pity we didn’t win,» China head coach Jia Xiuquan said. «The Japanese team have a lot of experience playing in the finals so we have a lot to learn from them.»

At the Asian Games, Japan faced tough challenges against regional rivals with less than a year to go until the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off next June in France.

Japan were missing several key team members, but managed to cover their absence with domestically based players. Midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi, who has 125 Nadeshiko caps, did not take part after undergoing knee surgery earlier this year.

Japan won the 2010 tournament in Guangzhou, China, but were runners-up in 2014 after losing to North Korea in the final.

At these Asian Games, Mana Iwabuchi and Yui Hasegawa lifted Japan over defending champions North Korea in the quarters before barely defeating South Korea due to a second-half own goal.

China won three straight gold from the inaugural Asian Games in 1990 to 1998, but have not won gold since. Their best finish since was third in 2006.

South Korea won bronze by beating Taiwan 4-0 earlier on Friday.

(Japan’s Mana Iwabuchi, blue, shoots in the 2nd half)

All — Kyodo News+

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