Beleza advance to quarters in All-Japan Women’s C’ship


Nippon TV Beleza got off to a good start in defense of their All-Japan Women’s Championship title, overwhelming Fukuoka J. Anclas 5-0 in the third round of the annual season-closing tournament on Sunday in Okayama Prefecture.

Japan internationals Yuki Nagasato and Mana Iwabuchi both scored twice.

Beleza, champions in the last two seasons, will next play Nadeshiko League counterparts Okayama Yunogo Belle in the quarterfinals on Wednesday in Hiroshima.

Okayama downed JFA Academy Fukushima 4-0 at home.

Playing in snowy weather at Mimasaka Soccer Stadium, Beleza started well with Akiko Sudo’s eighth-minute goal, before Nagasato scored her first in the 21st minute.

The Nadeshiko Japan forward found the net again five minutes after the break, slotting home after a Yukari Kinga shot hit the post.

Two minutes later, Iwabuchi made it 3-0 when she connected with a cross from Kinga. In the 73rd minute, the 16-year-old intercepted a Fukuoka ball, dribbled up the pitch, beat a defender and fired home from 12 meters.

Fukuoka, who earned promotion to the first division, were kept in check throughout the game and couldn’t reply.

Beleza coach Kei Hoshikawa said, “I knew it would be hard to play against a low-ranked side. Although we recovered in the second half, it was rather difficult for us to find our usual pace as our opponents didn’t come out to attack at all.”

Asked about defending their title, Hoshikawa said, “I think we have a good chance of pulling it off. Our next opponents, Okayama, have a similar style to Fukuoka. It’ll be down to whether we can play at our own rhythm.”

Fukuoka manager Mie Kawashima said, “I told our players this was not a memorial game against Beleza, who are like a dream team for us. Our players seemed to have too much respect for our opponents in the first half and couldn’t attack even after winning the ball.”

"However, by playing in this tournament, we were able to find what’s been missing from our game – something we couldn’t do by only playing in the second division.”

Later in the day, Okayama were 2-0 up midway through the first half after Nozomi Matsuda’s 19th-minute goal and Japan international Aya Miyama’s 24th-minute mid-range blast.

Six minutes after the break, forward Manami Nakano took a pass from Miyama and skillfully lobbed the ball over Fukushima goalkeeper Saki Nakamura.

In the 65th minute, Nakano hit a ball into the box and Matsuda made no mistake in slotting the ball into the goal.

“I’m relieved that we didn’t suffer to a high school side,” said Okayama manager Midori Honda. “It took us around 15 minutes to figure out how our opponents played. We had some bad moments in the second half, but got our act together after that, an aspect of our game we have developed.”

Asked about her side’s next opponents – Beleza – Honda replied, “We know each other well, but our players have a strong desire to go to Nishigaoka [for the semifinals] and the National Stadium [for the final]. I hope we can repeat what we did in 2006.” Okayama were runners-up in the 2006 tournament after beating Beleza in the semifinals.

Academy coach Masahiko Okiyama commented, “We had some spells where we passed the ball around better than they did, but the difference was in their speed and pressure. And our play wasn’t accurate enough to beat them.”

In other games, Nadeshiko League champions Urawa Reds Ladies advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-0 win over second-division team Ohara Gakuen JaSRA Women’s SC in Miyagi.

JEF United Chiba Ladies beat Tokiwagi Gakuen High School 2-0.

Last year’s runners-up INAC Kobe Leonessa also moved on to the next round, beating Kanagawa University 4-0 in Hiroshima.

Division Two champions AS Elfen Sayama FC won 3-1 over Speranza FC Takatsuki, who were relegated to the second division.

Albirex Niigata Ladies defeated second-division side Iga FC Kunoichi 2-0, while TEPCO Mareeze romped over Okayama Sakuyo High School 8-0.

In the quarterfinals on Wednesday, Urawa will meet Chiba and Niigata will face TEPCO at J. Village in Fukushima Prefecture, while Kobe will play Sayama in Hiroshima.

The semifinals are slated for December 28 at Nishigaoka Soccer Stadium in Tokyo and the final will be held on January 1 at the National Stadium in Tokyo.