Japan cut down China in women’s football final

Yuika Sugasawa scored the winning goal in the Asian Games final. (Reuters pic)

PALEMBANG: Substitute Yuika Sugasawa scored with just seconds left as former world champions Japan beat fierce rivals China 1-0 to regain the Asian Games women’s football title on Friday.

Forward Mana Iwabuchi crossed from the right wing with only 30 seconds on the clock to set up Sugasawa’s glancing header – Japan’s first and only attempt on target.

The Nadeshiko also won the gold in 2010, and their second title came in the pouring rain of tropical Palembang, and under their first female coach, Asako Takakura.

Three-time gold medallists China dominated the first half but squandered several chances as Japan fought their way back in an attritional contest.

Wang Shanshan was flagged for offside as she rolled the ball into the net after just 20 minutes, and Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita pulled off a superb diving save in the second half to deny Gu Yasha.

But Japan came back and they almost had a late penalty for a clumsy Wu Haiyan tackle on striker Emi Nakajima before the linesman’s flag was spotted.

With extra time looming, Japan committed bodies forward and finally found the net to dash the Steel Roses’ hopes.

Japan had taken a tough route to the final, knocking out defending champions North Korea in the quarter-finals and edging past South Korea in the last four.

China had been in flying form against admittedly weaker opponents, memorably destroying Tajikistan 16-0 in the group stages, before defeating Thailand and Chinese Taipei in the knockout phase.

But despite peppering the Japan goal with 14 shots, five of which were on target, they were made to pay for their wastefulness.

The Nadeshiko, who sat deep but enjoyed 59% possession, add the Asian Games to a rapidly-expanding trophy cabinet containing the last two Asian Cups as well as the 2011 World Cup.

That World Cup victory, soon after Japan had been hit by a deadly tsunami and nuclear crisis, endeared the team to the country, symbolising an iron will to recover.