Pune, Jan 27 (IANS): Two-time defending champions Japan secured top spot in Group C of the Women's Asian Cup India 2022 on Thursday despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Korea Republic at Pune's Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex.
Seo Ji-yeon's equaliser following a goal-mouth scramble five minutes from time earned Colin Bell's side a point in a game dominated by the Japanese after Riko Ueki's first-minute opener put the champions in front.
Futoshi Ikeda's side could not have asked for a better start as Ueki's speed of thought and movement unlocked the Korean defence with barely seconds on the clock.
The striker spun past her marker after receiving the ball from Shiori Miyake and found herself one-on-one with goalkeeper Kim Jung-mi, who offered little resistance as Ueki stroked the ball home.
It was a blistering start from the champions, who should have taken a greater lead into the interval.
Yui Hasegawa's footwork earned her the time and space to go for goal 14 minutes into the game but her effort was too weak to trouble Kim Jung-mi. The goalkeeper denied the midfielder 13 minutes later when she used her feet to keep out a close range attempt.
Hasegawa caused the Korean defence more trouble after the half hour mark when her ball from the right was spilled by Kim Jung-mi at the feet of Ueki. However, rather than double her side's lead, the Tokyo Very Beleza forward saw her effort come back off a defender.
Korean sorties into the final third of the field were few and far between in an opening half dominated by the holders.
Choo Hyo-joo had a sight of goal from distance in the fifth minute, but it did little to trouble Japanese goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita and Cho So-hyun sent an injury-time header over the bar.
Moeka Minami went close to adding a second for the Japanese on the hour mark when she fired over the bar after the Korean defence had failed to clear a corner and, ultimately, Ikeda's side were to regret not adding to their tally.
With five minutes remaining, substitute Seo claimed the final touch - and her first international goal - after a melee on the line caused by a failure from the Japanese defence to deal with Ji So-yun's corner and ensure a nervous end to the game for Japan.