Chinese women failed to avenge themselves on defending champions Japan as they suffered a 1-3 loss in the Women's Asian Cup semifinals on Tuesday night in Amman, Jordan.
China lost 1-2 to Japan at the same stage in the last edition of the continental tournament four years ago in Vietnam.
Having won all three group matches with a total of 15 goals scored and one against, the Steel Roses were not able to maintain their momentum and were outclassed by their old foes.
Japan qualified for the semifinals as runners-up in a much more competitive Group B where the top three teams all finished with five points, and they were the better side most of the game on Tuesday.
Both sides had chances in the first half but it was the Japanese who broke the deadlock. Striker Mana Iwabuchi cut inside the area from the right and unleashed a rasping shot that found the back of the net on 38 minutes. China goalkeeper Peng Shimeng got a touch, but the shot was too powerful to parry.
In search of an equalizer, China threatened the Japan goal with an improved finesse immediately after the restart. Two minutes after midfielder Gu Yasha's shot was blocked, striker Li Ying hit the far end of the post with a shot from outside the area in the 48th minute.
Japan doubled their lead five minutes from time when Kumi Yokoyama's strike from just -inside the area sailed over Peng into the net.
But the Chinese hopes did not die properly -until Japan were awarded a penalty three minutes later when striker Wang Shanshan, by no means a gifted defender, handled the ball in the area. Peng guessed right, but was unable to deny -Yokoyama.
Solace came at the end of the match when Wang was fouled in the area by Yokoyama. Li scored her sixth goal of the tournament from the spot and is now top scorer in Jordan.
Confident but cautious
China coach Siggi Eyjolfsson was satisfied with his players despite the defeat.
"It's a pity to lose the match, but we could still learn a lot from this game," the former Icelandic striker told the post-game press conference. "-Japan were ranked higher than us and they played really well today. They created plenty of scoring chances and had more possession than we did.
"My players tried their best although they just managed one goal."
China are now 17th in the FIFA rankings, six places behind Japan.
The coach has set his sights on the third-place playoff with Thailand on Friday.
"Now we need to draw some lessons from this loss and focus on our next game with Thailand," he said.
Speaking of the Thailand game, the China coach was cautiously confident of a win.
Thailand, 30th in the world, nearly shocked the world No.6 Australia in the earlier semifinal. The Australians avoided a knockout with a 91st-minute equalizer to draw 2-2, and keeper Mackenzie Arnold saved three penalties in the shootout after a goalless extra time.
"Our next game against Thailand will be difficult too," said the China coach. "They played thrillingly and almost knocked out Australia. But I'm still confident. I hope we can conclude our journey with a victory and our best game in the tournament."
All four semifinalists in the Asian Cup - -China, Japan, Thailand, Australia - have qualified for the World Cup in France next year. The Philippines and South Korea - the two third-placed teams in group play - will fight for the fifth and final berth from Asia in a playoff.
Unlike the catastrophic men's team, a constant source of misery and butt of jokes among China's long-suffering fans, the Chinese women have -always ranked among the world's best.
They played in all but one of the previous -seven World Cups, with a runners-up finish in 1999 their best result, losing to hosts the US on penalties. They are also record winners of the Women's Asian Cup, having won eight times in the 18 editions held. DPRK and Chinese Taipei come joint second on the winners' list with a mere three times each. Former captain Sun Wen is considered one of the all-time best players in the -women's game. In 2000 she was named the FIFA Female Player of the Century along with American Michelle Akers.