China stun holders Japan on penalties to set final with South Korea


China defeated Japan 4-3 on penalties to advance to the final of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2020 final here at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune on Thursday.

In an epic semi-final which ended 2-2 after extra time, goalkeeper Yu Zhu and captain Wang Shanshan played starring roles as China PR move within one match of winning a record-extending ninth AFC Women’s Asian Cup title. It was a well-deserved victory as China PR came from behind twice, with Wang Shanshan netting their second equaliser in the final minute of extra time. Yu Zhu then saved two of Japan’s penalties with the skipper scoring the fifth spot-kick to take her team into Sunday’s final against Korea Republic. China PR came into the semi-final hoping to advance to the final for a shot at a ninth title – having last lifted the trophy in 2006 – while Japan were two wins away from winning a hat-trick of consecutive AFC Women’s Asian Cup crowns.

Japan made their intentions clear in the first minute with Hinata Miyazawa testing Yu Zhu from distance, while Riko Ueki missed a golden opportunity to put the defending champions ahead three minutes later from inside the box. Ueki was a constant threat and almost found the breakthrough after Ruka Norimatsu set her through on goal in the sixth minute but Yu Zhu was quick to block the forward’s effort.

Japan increased their tempo with Saki Kumagai and Mana Iwabuchi both missing from inside the six-yard-box as China PR soaked up the pressure. Japan should have taken the lead in the 21st minute when Hinata Miyazawa sent a delightful through ball but Ueki’s effort from close range was saved by an advancing Yu Zhu.

China PR’s defence, however, was finally breached in the 26th minute when Hinata Miyazawa burst down the left flank and sent a perfect cross to Ueki, who scored with a glancing header. Japan came close to extending their advantage just before half-time with Miyazawa sending her long-range effort just wide, with the one goal separating the sides meaning China PR were still very much in the game.

It didn’t take long for Japan’s missed opportunities to cost them dearly as China PR drew level just a minute into the restart, with Xiao Yuyi muscling her way past a marker before sending a delightful ball to Wu Chengshu to finish. Japan almost replied with a goal eight minutes later when Miyazawa set up Iwabuchi nicely at the top of the box but the midfielder sent her effort wide.

It was another missed opportunity for Japan in the 75th minute when Ueki failed to find the back of the net from close range after Iwabuchi’s cut-back, as the match headed into extra time.

Japan started the first period the brighter and China PR survived a scare in the 97th minute when Ueki set up Hasegawa at the top of the box but the midfielder’s effort was denied by the crossbar.

Japan’s persistence finally paid off in the 103rd minute, with Ueki beating the China PR offside trap to finish off Hasegawa’s free-kick with a diving header. Yu Zhu then had to save Hasegawa’s shot from inside the box and Ueki’s header moments later as the custodian kept China PR in the game.

China PR failed to make much headway in the second period but just when Japan thought they had secured their place in the final, up stepped Wang Shanshan to score the equaliser as she reacted fastest to Zhang Xin’s cross in the 119th minute to force the game into penalties. Yu Zhu then saved the first and fifth penalties and Wang Shanshan, fittingly, scored the winner from the spot as China PR advanced to their first final since 2008.