Three teams which belong to the EAFF shone bright on the world stage. In the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012, held from 19 August to 8 September, Japan, Korea Republic, and DPR Korea all progressed to the knockout round.
The Japan U-20 international team, called "Young Nadeshiko" after their seniors "Nadeshiko Japan," finished top of their group. Their passing football style and control of the game fascinated the home supporters. In the third round of the group stage, they beat the Swiss 4-0 allowing their opponents only one shot and gained momentum ahead of the knockout round.
Aiming to reach the last four for the first time, Japan played against fellow EAFF members Korea Republic. The two teams met in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup final two years before and Korea emerged as world champions after winning a penalty shoot-out. Japan's coach Hiroshi Yoshida was eager to settle the old score, saying "We want to win by playing our football."
In a match where each side's pride was at stake, both started at a high tempo. Japan took the lead in the 8th minute, but Korea leveled soon in the 15th minute. Four minutes later, Japan regained the lead and then started showing their colours on the pitch with the backing of the vociferous home support. Eight minutes before the interval, in-form Yoko Tanaka scored for the fourth successive game since Match Day 1 and led Japan to a 3-1 victory. Thus, Japan qualified for the last four for the first time at their fourth attempt in the competition.
After finishing the group stage as section winners as Japan did, DPR Korea challenged the United States in the quarter-finals. The game between the two former champions went into extra time with the score level at 1-1.
The next goal came in the 8th minute of extra time and it was the United States who took the lead. Falling behind, DPR Korea pushed desperately for a goal, but to no avail. Finally, their bid for the second world title came to an end in the last eight.
Japan, the only EAFF member in the last four, took on Germany in the semi-finals. After the Germans took the lead just after the kick-off, Japan found themselves three goals behind within 20 minutes.
Though Japan tried to fight back in spite of the tiredness accumulated in successive games, Germany's defensive wall was very hard to crack. "Their goal just after the start of the game made us lose control of ourselves," said coach Yoshida after the game, ruefully looking back on the defeat. "We could never get into our rhythm."
Four days later, however, Japan edged Nigeria 2-1 in the match for third place. Yoko Tanaka opened the scoring with a shot from distance in the 24th minute. Five minutes after the break, Asuka Nishikawa was put through by Hanae Shibata and scored Japan's second goal. Nigeria piled on the pressure and pulled a goal back, but Japan held on until the end and finished the tournament third - their best ever finish in this competition.
The fact that Japan, Korea Republic, and DPR Korea all made it into the last eight of the tournament arguably shows the high standard of the EAFF. Even China, who failed to reach the knockout round, held eventual runners-up Germany to a 1-1 draw in the group stage. In addition, Japan received the FIFA Fair Play Award.
Players of the EAFF also won individual titles; Hanae Shibata collected the Silver Ball Award while Kim Un Hwa (DPR Korea) received the Golden Boot by scoring seven goals. Yoko Tanaka scored the second most (six goals) in the tournament.
Following the success in the 30th Olympic Games (2012/London), EAFF members again shone bright to the world. The achievement in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012 will certainly be a stimulus for the whole federation and encourage its members to further enhance their levels.