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Powerhouse Beleza with most tournament wins and challengers Nojima aiming for first championship title reach final of 39th Empress's Cup All Japan Women's Football Tournament

22 December 2017

Powerhouse Beleza with most tournament wins and challengers Nojima aiming for first championship title reach final of 39th Empress's Cup All Japan Women's Football Tournament

Two semi-finals of the 39th Empress's Cup All Japan Women's Football Tournament were held at YANMAR STADIUM NAGAI in Osaka on Thursday 21 December. NIPPON TV BELEZA beat URAWA RED DIAMONDS LADIES 2-1, while NOJIMA STELLA KANAGAWA SAGAMIHARA edged JEF UNITED ICHIHARA CHIBA LADIES 1-0 in overtime and advanced to the final.

On Christmas Eve, Sunday 24 December will see the final between Beleza, aiming to win the championship for the first time in three tournaments, and Nojima, looking to hoist the trophy for the very first time, at Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka.

NIPPON TV BELEZA 2-1(2-0, 0-1)URAWA RED DIAMONDS LADIES

Winners of the Plenus Nadeshiko League Division1 this season, Beleza started SHIMIZU Risa, who returned to the team after suffering an injury, and UEKI Riko, a goal-scorer in the last two games. Urawa, on the other hand, employed KIZAKI Aoi as a defensive midfielder, while ANDO Kozue and KIRA Chinatsu were named as two starting forwards.

Beleza, having many players who participated in the EAFF E-1 Football Championship 2017 Final Japan as members of Nadeshiko Japan, got off to an excellent start by scoring early in the game. After 18 minutes, TANAKA Mina reacted to a cross from HASEGAWA Yui, and headed in the first of the match and her fifth goal of the championship. Tanaka, contented with her goal, later commented, ‘I knew that Yui would get past the defender and decided to make a run towards the goal. It was a characteristic goal that we have been practising all season long.’

Beleza doubled their lead just five minutes later. UEKI Riko chipped in a lob shot from SAKAGUCHI Mizuho’s long feed and extended her goal-scoring streak to three games.

Urawa were struggling to send the ball upfront and brought on two attacking players, SEIKE Kiko and SUGASAWA Yuika, from the bench to invigorate the team’s offence. These substitutions had made an impact in the game as the Urawa club started to create better chances to fire shots at goal right around the hour mark. On the other hand, Beleza, being unable to deliver the ball to their forward players, were now on the back foot, and Urawa finally managed to score their first goal in the 81st minute. Seike surged up the pitch and fired in a goal to close the gap to a single goal (2-1), as she stated after the game, ‘I came off the bench and focused only on scoring.’ Urawa had gained momentum and looked for their equaliser in the last ten minutes of play.

It was the first goal that Beleza had conceded in the championship and their solid defence was still present during the closing minutes of the second half as they did not allow Urawa, who attempted six shots twice as many compared to the first half, to level the match. With the final score of 2-1, Beleza reached the final for the first time in three tournaments.

Match Report (Japanese version only)

JEF UNITED ICHIHARA CHIBA LADIES 0-1(0-0, 0-0 ext. 0-1, 0-0)NOJIMA STELLA KANAGAWA SAGAMIHARA

JEF Ladies, aiming to advance to the finals for the first time in five tournaments, started SETOGUCHI Kozue, who had scored a deciding goal in the final of the Nadeshiko League Cup Division1, and KAMOGAWA Miho as defensive midfielders, while FUKASAWA Risa paired up with ANZAI Yuka upfront.

Nojima Stella, making their first semi-final appearance, had positioned TAKAGI Hikari in the anchor position, while captain OYAMA Saki, who announced her retirement at the end of the season, started in central midfield. MINAMINO Arisa, scoring a brace in the quarter-final, continued to aim for goals as one of starting forwards.

In over thirty minutes of play, the game saw a seesaw struggle, but it was Nojima Stella who went close to scoring the first goal. In the 35th minute, KAWASHIMA Haruna collected a ball on the left and sent a cross to the middle, where Takagi reacted and fired a shot, but hit the crossbar. Nojima had better possession of the ball in the remainder of the first half, but JEF’s NISHIKAWA Ayaka displayed her strong presence in midfield, where she pressured the opponents numerous times to intercept the ball, and both sides entered the halftime break scoreless.

In the second half, JEF Ladies were much quicker in transitions and fashioned several chances by taking the ball with pace into the opposing end of the pitch. However, they lacked the accuracy of the final pass and were unable to threaten the Nojima’s goal, as coach MIKAMI Shoko indicated later, ‘We were not clinical enough in our shots and lacked the accuracy of the final passes. Our decision making was poor as well.’

Nojima did well to neutralise JEF’s attacks and looked for their chances to score on the counter, but also had a difficult time in fashioning effective goal-scoring opportunities as their opponents displayed their tenacious defence. The match stayed scoreless in the second half and went into overtime 0-0.

The loudest cheer in the match came when Minamino scored the deciding goal for Nojima Stella in the first minute of injury time in overtime. Minamino received a pass from SHONO Kanako after a goalmouth scramble and found an open space to take the ball up to fire in the much-awaited opener for her side.

JEF Ladies brought on forward SATO Mizuka to gear up their attacks, but could not carve open the tight Nojima’s defence and level the match. Nojima Stella, the newcomers in the Plenus Nadeshiko League Division1, won the game in extra time and reached the final of the Empress’s Cup for the very first time in their club history.

Match Report (Japanese version only)

Coaches' and Players' Comments

MORI Eiji, Coach (NIPPON TV BELEZA)
We always struggle to beat Urawa and decided to enter the match carefully today. We managed to take a two-goal lead before halftime, but conceded a goal in the second half. However, we displayed resilience and won the match at the end. Urawa’s pressure was quite strong, and our two forwards often lined up horizontally and were unable to collect the ball after reclaiming possession. As a consequence, we could not orchestrate effective attacks and spent the majority of time defending on our end of the pitch. I felt that we need to improve how we make better transitions in attacks after we regain control of the ball.

FW #9 TANAKA Mina (NIPPON TV BELEZA)
I wasn’t tired (from participating in the EAFF Championship), but was a little anxious, since we didn’t have enough time to practise together as a team. Having said that, the result meant everything today and I am simply glad that we won the game. We struggled to take the ball forward in the second half and gave plenty of chances to the opponents to hit us on the counter. We were looking to connect better passes and display our style of attacking football, but the forward players including myself decided to help out the defenders who were doing their best to neutralise the threatening attacks from Urawa. I must add that our performance was not great, but winning meant everything and we succeeded in doing so. We will go all out to win the final as a united team.

ISHIHARA Takayoshi, Coach (URAWA RED DIAMONDS LADIES)
It was a regretful result. Even after we conceded two goals, our players never gave up until the final whistle. I told them before the start of the season, ‘Let’s compete while we improve ourselves.’ Our players worked hard and improved themselves, and we succeeded in reaching the semi-finals of the tournament. I wished I could let them play in the final as well. I started Kizaki as a defensive midfielder since she has the necessary skills to defend and cover open spaces. We faced the league champions and naturally we struggled in many areas, but I must say that our players did their best given the circumstances that they played in.

MIKAMI Shoko, Coach (JEF UNITED ICHIHARA CHIBA LADIES)
We couldn’t play as intended in the first half, but managed to fix our problems in the second and created several goal-scoring chances. However, we were not clinical enough in our shots and lacked the accuracy of the final passes. Our decision making was poor as well. The result was a loss for us, but we still displayed our style of football and fought without giving up until the end of the match. I must say that we couldn’t keep the best form constantly throughout the season and believe that if we manage to do so, then we can become one of the top teams in the Nadeshiko league. In today’s game, we should have focused more on doing our job and getting the simple things right. Then, I believe that the result might have been different.

KANNO Masaaki, Coach (NOJIMA STELLA KANAGAWA SAGAMIHARA)
I think that we made history for Nojima in the very prestigious Empress's Cup with 39 years of history. We made our sixth cup appearance since 2012 when our team was established, and succeeded in reaching the semi-final and final for the first time in club history with the hard effort from our players and the warm support from our fans. I hope that many football fans watched this match and saw some of the exciting plays of women’s football. Some of our players had cramps, but still managed to defend with tenacity. This is what we aimed for as a team, and I must thank our players for their hard effort that they put in today’s game.

MF #8 TANAKA Yoko (NOJIMA STELLA KANAGAWA SAGAMIHARA)
There are players who will retire at the end of this season and I played hoping to play a bit longer with them. I’m pleased that our effort brought this positive result. JEF Ladies play with solid defence and have an ability to strike anytime, and we decided to enter the match carefully and focus on not conceding a goal. It was a tough match until the very last minute of the game. Defence was one of the problems that we had during the regular season, but we were able to fix it before the Empress’s Cup. Regarding that aspect of the game, we performed well today and allowed us to initiate better attacking plays.

Tournament Period:28 October 2017(Sat.)~24 December 2017(Sun.)
First Round Sat. 28 and Sun 29. October
Second Round Fri.3, Sat. 4 and Sun. 5 November
Third Round Sat. 11 and Sun. 12 November
Quarter-finals Sat. 18 and Sun. 19 November
Semi-finals Thu. 21 December
Final Sun. 24 December

Tournament Information

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