Two-time defending champions Japan secured the top spot in Group C of the ongoing Women’s Asian Cup football tournament after a 1-1 draw with Korea Republic in their final preliminary stage outing here on Thursday.
Seo Ji-yeon’s equaliser following a goal-mouth scramble five minutes from time earned Colin Bell’s side a point in a game dominated by the Japanese after Riko Ueki’s first minute opener put the champions in front.
Futoshi Ikeda’s side could not have asked for a better start as Ueki’s speed of thought and movement unlocked the Korean defence with barely seconds on the clock.
The striker spun past her marker after receiving the ball from Shiori Miyake and found herself one-on-one with goalkeeper Kim Jung-mi, who offered little resistance as Ueki stroked the ball home.
Yui Hasegawa’s footwork earned her the time and space to go for a goal 14 minutes into the game but her effort was too weak to trouble Kim Jung-mi.
The goalkeeper denied the mid-fielder 13 minutes later when she used her feet to keep out a close range attempt.
Hasegawa caused the Korean defence more trouble after the half hour mark when her ball from the right was spilled by Kim Jung-mi at the feet of Ueki.
However, rather than double her side’s lead, the Tokyo Very Beleza forward saw her effort come back off a defender.
Choo Hyo-joo had a sight of goal from distance in the fifth minute, but it did little to trouble Japanese goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita and Cho So-hyun sent an injury time header over the bar.
Moeka Minami went close to adding a second for the Japanese on the hour mark when she fired over the bar after the Korean defence had failed to clear a corner and, ultimately, Ikeda’s side were to regret not adding to their tally.
With five minutes remaining, substitute Seo claimed the final touch and her first international goal – after a melee on the line caused by a failure from the Japanese defence to deal with Ji So-yun’s corner and ensure a nervous end to the game for Japan.
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