RAYANNE MOUSSALLEM and PABLO SANCHEZ RIVAS / AIPS in AMMAN**: Once again, Asian teams proved to be the best in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. Japan and North Korea set up an all-Asian final at the Amman International Stadium on Friday to ensure that the champions would be Asian for the fourth time in five editions with two 3-0 resounding victories in the semi-finals.
The North Koreans silenced a disappointing Deyna Castellanos and her Venezuelan team-mates while the Little Nadeshiko cruised past Spain, whom they beat two years ago to lift the title.
Asian domination of this competition is nothing new.
Since its inception in 2008, Asian teams have always taken part of the final showdowns. In the first edition in New Zealand, North Korea overcame United States 2-1 to pave the way to an era that saw them become the most successful team in the competition.
In Trinidad and Tobago 2010, South Korea and Japan met in the first all-Asian final that ended up in favour of the South Koreans on penalties after a 3-3 draw. North Korea had to settle for fourth place.
Europe hits back
Azerbaijan 2012 saw a breakthrough by France who clinched the title at the expense of North Korea 7-6 in the penalty shoot-out while Japan had to wait for Costa Rica 2014 to win their first title in the competition with a 2-0 win over Spain.
Japan go into Friday’s showpiece looking for a revenge. Almost 11 months ago, on November 15, they suffered a 1-0 defeat in the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship final against none other than their next opponents.
Japan and North Korea have met once in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup when the eventual runner-ups beat North Korea 2-1 in the 2010 edition.
On their way to this year’s final, Japan were the only team to grab nine points from group stage beating Ghana, Paraguay and the United States before overcoming England and Spain both by 3-0 in last eight and last four respectively.
Japan coach Kusunose Naoki told AIPS: “The difference is that we know each other very well. We have played against North Korea many times, we know how their style of play so it is going to be an intense clash.
“The most important thing is to keep that appetite to win. We both have good players but everyone is tired now that we reached the last stage of the tournament. It is going to be a fight for pride.”
The most two successful teams in the competition have an impressive record. Japan top the ranking table of the tournament’s history. Since 2008 the Little Nadeshiko have played 30 matches, winning 26, drawing two and losing only two.
They are also the only team to have scored more than 100 goals. North Korea stand just behind them in the second place with 31 matches played, recording 19 wins, eight draws and four losses.
But when asked about the secret behind Asian dominance, Kusunose was modest in his response.
The 52-year-old said: “Spain and USA were both strong in this tournament as well. North Korea and China are investing to improve the young generations and I think this why Asia is dominant. Japan is competing now with them at the same level.
“It is true that Asia is dominating but when we look at other tournaments, the European Championship for example, teams there are also performing at top level.
“Maybe the European qualification competition is hard and competitive so when they come to the World Cup, the players might be tired. France for example, the 2012 champions, didn’t qualify for this edition.
“The climate might affect the European teams as well; they are not used to play in high temperatures. However, we have to make efforts so the Asian teams keep on winning.”
On their way to Friday’s showdown, Korea DPR topped Group C with two wins against Brazil and Nigeria and one draw against England before beating Ghana 2-1 in the quarter-finals with a goal in stoppage time before overcoming La Vinotinto in the last four.
North Korea coach Sin Jong-Bok, after reaching the final but before Japan played Spain, had said: “I would prefer to face Japan in the final because we had played against them last year but never against Spain.”
His wish was fulfilled but whether his judgment was correct will be evident only on Friday. One factor is certain: one of the two teams will be crowned FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup champions for the second time.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide – currently holding a Young Reporters graduation course in at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com