KATIE MISHNER / AIPS in AMMAN: North Korea reinstated their world champion title following a 5-4 penalty shootout victory over Japan after a goalless draw in the U-17 Women’s World Cup final.
The historic win means that North Korea became the first nation to win two U-17 WWC titles; they claimed their first eight years ago.
Support for tournament favourites Japan had been consistent but for the first time in Jordan, the North Korean players could look up into the stands and see the colours that they were representing.
Kick-off summoned a pacey battle between the two Asian giants. Both teams were eager to display their credentials through Hollywood-like passes and an added flare of tricky footwork.
As play went on, Japan looked fazed by the hungry Korea DPR. They gifted their opposition free kicks in dangerous places, however the most out of character display came when Hana Takahashi’s shot on an abandoned net merely skimmed across the mouth of the goal.
Hinta Miyazawa took the initiative to hit a shot outside the box to bypass Korea DPR’s compact defence. The ball was hit with malice. It dipped over the sea of red shirts, curled past Ok Kum Ju’s reach but met only the crossbar.
The pace of the game plateaued but the enthusiasm of the crowd only reached new heights. Supporters armed with clappers and drums sent the game into half time with no team having a real advantage.
After the break, the stalemate grew into permanence. Japan’s penetrating passes that they had become notorious for fell short, North Korea were astute to Riko Ueki and Takahashi’s striking partnership.
Sung Hyang Sing lurked around Japan’s defensive line but her team’s effort to keep out Japan meant that her chances were limited. Her effort was almost rewarded when Momoko Tanaka failed to hold the ball but Sung was unable to guide it inside the post.
When the clock hit the 80 minute mark, a penalty shootout looked likely. Korea DPR pushed three of their attacking options into their opposition’s half, but the ball stayed in harmless possession of Japan until the final whistle.
The regulations at this age decreed no extra time so the contest went direct to the penalty kicks which reflected an even game as both teams converted three each. That was when Rio Kanekatsu sent Japan’s title hopes soaring over the bar.
The weight of the prospective crown did not weigh heavily on the shoulders of Kim Pom Ui who delivered the final kick of the tournament into the back of the net.
The bench rushed towards Kim and the rest of the penalty takers in the middle of the pitch while the Jordanians in the crowd switched their allegiance to the new champions.
Japan endured the awards ceremony. They picked up the Fair Play award and the Golden Ball for captain Fuka Nagano’s tournament performance but it was no consolation as they watched their rivals raise the trophy that belonged to them only two hours earlier.
** Spain beat Venezuela 4-0 in the third place play-off with a hat-trick from Lorena Navarro.