Japan defeat North Korea to clinch Olympic spot

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Japan punched their ticket to the Paris Olympics women's football competition with a hard-fought 2-1 win over North Korea in Wednesday's qualifying second leg in a chilly Tokyo.

1 month ago
The two sides drew 0-0 in Saturday's first leg on neutral ground in Saudi Arabia, setting up a winner-takes-all showdown for one of the two Asian berths at the Games. Hana Takahashi put 2012 London Olympics silver medallists Japan in front midway through the first half at Tokyo's National Stadium, before Aoba Fujino doubled their lead in the second half.
Kim Hye Yong pulled one back with less than 10 minutes to go for North Korea, who were cheered on by several thousand red-clad fans who chanted and banged drums from long before kick-off until the final whistle. But the hosts held on to deny North Korea a place at their first Olympics since 2012.
Japan enjoyed plenty of early possession but struggled to find a way through North Korea's packed defence. The breakthrough came in the 26th minute when Yui Hasegawa's free-kick found Mina Tanaka, who connected with a header that North Korean goalkeeper Pak Ju Mi tipped onto the crossbar.
The ball rebounded to Takahashi, who nodded it into the net. The goal forced North Korea out of their shells and Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita had to claw away a goal-bound flick from Choe Kum Ok on the stroke of half-time. North Korea complained bitterly that the ball had crossed the line, and Wi Jong Sim was booked in the aftermath.
Fujino scored Japan's second in the 76th minute, heading home Risa Shimizu's pinpoint cross. North Korea replied with a goal just minutes later when substitute Kim charged into the box and chipped the ball over Yamashita.
The first leg was played in Jeddah after Japan's football association asked Asian officials to move it from Pyongyang over a lack of operational transparency and a scarcity of flights. The venue was not confirmed until just days before the game and Japan captain Saki Kumagai criticised officials for leaving it so late.
North Korea returned to international football at last year's Asian Games for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic and lost 4-1 to Japan in the final in Hangzhou.



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