Nadeshiko Japan Seals Olympic Qqualification with Victory over North Korea

Japanese players celebrate after the match against North Korea in Tokyo on Wednesday.

TOKYO, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Japan survived a late scare to hand North Korea a 2-1 defeat at National Stadium in Tokyo on Wednesday to secure qualification for the Olympic Games in Paris for Futoshi Ikeda’s side.

Goals from Hana Takahashi and Aoba Fujino gave the Japanese a two-goal lead after a scoreless draw in the opening leg in Jeddah on Saturday, although a late strike from Kim Hye Yong gave the North Koreans hope.

The result means the Japanese take one of Asia’s two spots at the Olympics, with Australia also due to represent the confederation in Paris at the 12-team event following their comprehensive win over Uzbekistan.

Takahashi pounced to give Japan a 25th-minute lead after North Korean goalkeeper Pak Ju Mi had tipped Minami Tanaka’s header onto the crossbar, the defender storming in to poke a left-foot shot over the line from close range.

Fujino then shot over the bar from distance in the 34th minute as the Japanese sought a second, although Ikeda’s side were fortunate to reach the interval still ahead.

Goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita was on hand to prevent the North Koreans from levelling in the dying moments of the half when she clawed Choe Kum Ok’s goal-bound strike off the line at full stretch.

Fujino doubled Japan’s lead with 14 minutes remaining when she met Risa Shimizu’s cross from the right.

Kim, however, kept the pressure on the Japanese with nine minutes remaining when she latched onto Ri Hak’s through pass to clip the ball past Yamashita, but the Japanese held on to qualify.

The Australians also advanced having already held a 3-0 lead from the first leg in Tashkent and four goals from Michelle Heyman drove Tony Gustavsson’s side to a 10-0 victory that earned the Matildas a 13-0 aggregate win.