What an Asian Football Confederation Olympic Qualifying Tournament we have had. The last match day has finally concluded, and an era of Japanese women’s football dominance has finally ended peacefully in the streets of its nation’s kitchen, the world-famous city of Osaka, Japan.
We start with the match between Yoon Duk Yeo’s Taeguk Ladies of South Korea and Mai Duc Chung’s Golden Girls of Vietnam. At the Yanmar Stadium, under the sobering lament of Mother Nature mourning the end of an era in the Land of the Rising Sun in the form of torrents of cold, pounding rain, goals from Lim Seon Joo (8′, 18′), Jeon Ga Eul (85′) and Lee Geunmin (69′) powered South Korea to a clinical, professional, emancipating 4-0 victory.
“Despite the results before today, our players did their best against Vietnam. Throughout the tournament there have been some problems we need to improve, and with that in mind we need to develop more in order to be able to compete against other nations in Asia,” Yoon said. “I mentioned about needing to score more goals before this game because our attackers and the team as a whole had failed to do so despite the fact we had been creating chances.
“In today’s match we scored after seven minutes and that made it easier for us to manage the game. We still have lots of things to improve, especially offensively. I think the team has the ability to create chances and score a variety of different goals, so that is one thing we have to work on.”
“We were the only team to qualify for this final qualification round. We came to compete with the highest level of Asian teams and I am satisfied with how my players did,” Mai added. “We learned a lot. First of all, we have improved our skill and technical play – particularly by playing the likes of Australia and China. They showed us many good things so our players will improve in the future. We are making programmes for women and children looking towards the long term, and in the near future we want to reach the top level in Asia.”
Alen Stajcic’s Matildas of Australia were looking to fine tune their game against Bruno Bini’s Steel Roses of China. Instead, they had a challenging affair, going behind on 16 minutes courtesy of Ma Xiaoxu. It took the 85th minute for the Matildas to force a 1-1 draw courtesy of a screamer, a rippa, a beauty, a killa dilla of a shot from Emily van Egmond, the daughter of accomplished managerial mind Gary van Egmond, who happens to be an assistant to Stajcic.
In the end, the night would really belong to the fallen, the falling cherry blossoms, the Nadeshiko Japan fleet of Admiral Norio Sasaki. A frustrating affair against Kim Kwang Min’s Chollima Ladies of North Korea awaited them at the Kincho Stadium. It took all of 80 minutes, but it was the future of the team, 22-year-old forward Mana Iwabuchi of Bayern Munich, who delivered a strike that set the wheels in motion for the start of a new journey.
The 1-0 victory over North Korea for the Nadeshiko started a new chapter in their history as the skies parted and the rain stopped. The long road to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France began with that exact goal. And it also began a sister chapter, that of the long road to Tokyo 2020, and the Games of the XXXII Olympiad.
It seemed the flowers of the current logo were blooming over the Nadeshiko in spirit. Those players knew that as the hosts of the next games, the onus would be to pass to torch to a new generation of players to don the blue strip with pink accents, and resurrect the wishes of a nation that continues to stand by its female football fleet until the end of time. Changes will have to be made, the torch will have to be passed, a transformation is now in the offing.
So while the Matildas and the Steel Roses will continue preparations and make difficult choices regarding selection and priorities ahead of the world’s biggest sporting party this calendar year, Japan is continuing its plans to rise like a phoenix and once again challenge the best in the world, the best indeed and succeed, specifically against…
The USA Women’s National Team. Weigh Anchor.