Japan came into the semi-final match against China as the hot favorites as they have won the last two editions of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. Japan are currently ranked 13th in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings and China are ranked 19th. The dominance that Japan have enjoyed in this tournament was the main reason why few people thought China had any chance of a win.
Japan started the match strongly and dominated the early exchanges. They were duly rewarded in the 19th minute when Riko Ueki scored the first of her brace. The match thus far was going according to plan for Japan and perhaps complacency crept into their game. The tactic of sitting on a one-goal lead was certainly a recipe for disaster, as the confidence of China grew the longer the match progressed. Japan offered nothing in terms of attack for the rest of the half and went into the break with the 1-0 lead.
Chinese coach Shui Qingxia had an inspirational team talk during the break. The team came out firing on all cylinders and equalized just a minute later when Wu Chengshu scored after a pinpoint cross from substitute Xiao Yuyi. The whole complexion of the match changed with that goal, and the belief in the Chinese team grew exponentially.
With neither team launching any meaningful attacks, the score remained 1-1 after regulation time. Strangely, the Japanese coaching team decided to only make one substitute in the 90 minutes despite their team struggling in attack. Ueki was once again Japan’s hero as she netted in the 103rd minute of the match. This goal revitalized her lethargic-looking teammates.
However, the Chinese displayed all the courage that they are renowned for and never gave up. If ever there was leadership required, captain Wang Shanshan emphatically answered the call. She led from the front and equalized in the final minute of extra time, sparking wild scenes of jubilation among the Chinese players. This set the stage for the lottery of penalties.
The penalty shootout is a great leveler of teams as the tag of underdogs or favorites goes out the window, and so it proved in this match. China held their nerve in the shootout and deservedly booked their place in the final. It was the Chinese team’s first Asian Cup final since 2008.
The undoubted player of the match was China’s goalkeeper Yu Zhu. Yu made the difference in the first half as she pulled off a string of great saves. Throughout the match, she kept denying the Japanese attack, and she put the icing on the cake when she saved two penalties in the shootout.