By Tom Bennett in Tokyo
Arsenal Ladies secured a 1-1 draw against an impressive INAC Kobe side on Wednesday in the first game of their charity tour of Japan.
Jennifer Beattie levelled a brilliant game with 12 minutes to go, latching onto a through-ball from Jordan Nobbs to dink the ball past Ayumi Kaihori and cancel out a well-worked goal from Ji So Yun.
It was the Gunners’ first match on Japanese soil in their 24-year history and Laura Harvey’s side put on a show to remember at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
INAC Kobe, who boast seven members of Japan's World Cup-winning squad in their number - including captain Homare Sawa and league player of the year Kawasumi - were fast, technical and dangerous going forward. The Ladies - treble winners last term - are no slouches themselves, but faced with the attacking fluidity of their hosts, they had to call on all available resources to compete.
The back four and midfield pairing of Katie Chapman and Jayne Ludlow worked relentlessly hard, throwing themselves at every loose ball, harrying, blocking and tackling. That, combined with the assured presence of Emma Byrne in the Arsenal goal, kept INAC at bay until the 73rd minute.
And the breakthrough required a superb piece of individual skill from Yun. The South Korean jinked left and right before curling an unstoppable shot inside Byrne’s left post.
It would have been easy for the Gunners to surrender to INAC’s attacking prowess at this point, but they did nothing of the sort. Within five minutes, Arsenal were back level.
Nobbs weaved through the INAC defence before playing in Beattie. Despite only having been on the pitch for 10 minutes, the Scottish international kept her cool to poke the ball past Kaihori and level the game.
A frenetic final 10 minutes followed with INAC pushing to reclaim the advantage but Arsenal were resolute, repelling their hosts' advances to secure the point, and their half of the charity trophy.
Ticket profits from the game will go to the Tohoku relief effort, and the visitors certainly played their part in entertaining 11,004 paying supporters. A large Arsenal contingent, sporting a Clock End flag among other banners, gave vocal confirmation of this, hollering their appreciation of the Ladies' efforts from the first whistle to the last.
The match - worthy of both teams' status as league champions - provided a very satisfactory conclusion to the first leg of the tour, and confirmation if it were needed that the Ladies can compete with the very best in the women’s game.
INAC Kobe Kaihori (gk), Kai, Tanaka, Kinga, Nasu, Sawa, So Yun, Minamiyama, Kawasumi (c), Ohno, Takase.
* The Arsenal players wore black armbands during the match as a mark of respect for Wales manager Gary Speed, who died at the weekend.
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