Japan beats NKorea for Asian Games football gold

Japan won its first Asian Games women’s football gold medal by
beating the defending champion North Koreans 1-0 on Monday in a
fiercely contested final.

After a scoreless first half, defender Azusa Iwashimizu broke
through with her historic header in the 74th minute, helping her
jubilant team claim the Asian Games title.

The disciplined and experienced Japanese, led by U.S.-based
midfielders Homare Sawa and Aya Miyama, managed to keep the
determined North Koreans from scoring the rest of the game.

The win was retribution for Japan’s 2006 loss to the top-seeded
North Koreans in a penalty shootout at the last Asian Games in
Doha.

”Four years ago we lost to North Korea in the final. Now we are
here, we are four years older and we have a better mentality that
helped us win,” Japan captain Aya Miyama said. ”As I was
listening to our national anthem from the podium, I was more calmed
than excited.”

The North Koreans blamed fatigue after a difficult, 2-1 extra
time win over South Korea in the semifinals.

”They have never gone through a match like this, and losing
this match is a good experience for them,” coach Kim Kwang Min
said in comments translated at a post-match news conference.

The coach said he was disappointed not to deliver another gold
for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il.

”The leader … really is a women’s football fan. He takes good
care of my players and looks at my players as if they were his
daughters,” he said. ”I’m sorry he couldn’t see their great
efforts rewarded.”

Earlier Monday, South Korea claimed the bronze by beating China
2-0, reversing the result from four years ago when China won the
third-place match.

The crowd at Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou was raucous as Japan
and North Korea played for the gold.

North Korea and Japan are historical rivals – Japan colonized
Korea from 1910 to the end of World War II in 1945 – and the match
was heated on the field and off.

China remains North Korea’s main ally and has tussled with Japan
over territorial disputes, and the fans were firmly behind the
North Koreans. It translated into cheers for the Koreans and boos
for the Japanese.

In the bronze medal match, South Korea’s Park Hee-young scored
just two minutes into the game, and Ji So-yun followed up in the
37th minute. Ji is the tournament’s top scorer with five goals
overall.

The Chinese women were unable to get past South Korea’s tough
defense and goalkeeper Jin Min-kyung.

The bronze is South Korea’s first Asian Games medal in women’s
football.

South Korea coach Choi In-cheul said his players were exhausted
from the tough 3-1 semifinal loss to top-seeded North Korea. He
said Park’s early goal gave them a boost and paved the way to
victory.

”This is our first Asian Games medal and although it’s just a
bronze, it’s very precious for all of us,” he told a post-match
news conference.