LADIES REPORT: INAC KOBE LEONESSA 4-2 CHELSEA
Chelsea Ladies were beaten in the International Women's Club Championship final in Tokyo on Sunday afternoon, against the excellent Japanese champions.
It rounded off a disappointing weekend for the club following the men's team's defeat at Stoke on Saturday, but the girls will take lessons from the experience in this pre-season encounter.
Billed as underdogs, Chelsea fell behind just 10 minutes in and struggled to cope with the opposition's tidy passing game, but only conceded a second thanks to a poor refereeing call to award a penalty.
Chances followed to get back into the game, but a third inside the closing stages looked to have condemned the Blues to defeat, only for Rachel Williams's excellent header to put the visitors back in it, and when Hannah Blundell bundled a second over the line shortly afterwards, a comeback looked possible, but INAC recovered and struck late to take the title.
Hayes opted for the same side which began against Sydney four days previously in Okayama. That meant captain Yuki Ogimi led the line, supported by Williams, Eni Aluko and 17-year-old Rosella Ayane, with Allie Long and Laura Coombs supporting in midfield.
The back four consisted of Danni Buet, Laura Bassett, Emma Wilhelmsson and Blundell, with Marie Hourihan in goal.
Hayes had spoken beforehand of INAC's quality, and their short passing game was immediately evident, with the Japanese side dominating possession as Chelsea sat deep, looking to win possession and quickly counter.
That plan was undone after just 10 minutes, however, when INAC worked the ball well down the Chelsea left before a square pass across goal was turned in by Megumi Takase to give her side a lead.
The Blues almost hit back instantly with their best chance of the opening exchanges, when Aluko crossed for Williams, who rounded the goalkeeper but saw her shot blocked on the line and deflected behind.
It was to be Chelsea's best chance for a while as the 'home' side took control, Takase misfiring after another fine combination broke through the Chelsea ranks, and then Chiaki Minamiyama missed a huge chance after they passed their way through the middle, side-footing wide with most of the goal gaping.
Chelsea remained compact and for a while looked more comfortable, but were undone by a harsh refereeing call after 27 minutes, Laura Bassett deemed to have fouled American forward Beverly Goevel-Yanez, who coolly slotted home the resulting penalty to double her side's lead.
From there INAC took greater control and could have added a third when Nahomi Kawasumi was played in by Akaya Watanabe, but shot just wide.
Chelseafinally came forward once more just before half-time, and Williams headed against the bar from an Ogimi corner to give some belief heading in at the break.
Rosella Ayane was sacrificed for Jodie Brett at the beginning of the second period, and again the visitors could have pulled a goal back within a few minutes when Williams released Ogimi, who ran at the INAC defence but finished weakly, allowing the goalkeeper to make the save.
Hourihan then produced the save of the game to deny a third INAC goal after a swift passing move had sliced her defence open, and just after the hour the Blues mounted their most fluid attack of the game, working the ball well down the left and then through the middle before Coombs found the overlapping Buet down the right, her well-struck shot fizzing narrowly wide.
Ogimi then had another opportunity but found INAC goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori in inspired form, and she was quickly made to pay as we fell three behind, with 17 minutes remaining, as Ji So Yun, a Korean international, powered home a thunderous drive, in off the crossbar from the edge of the area.
That looked to be game over, but Chelsea were not beaten yet. On 80 minutes an Aluko corner found Williams, who rose well and planted a firm header into the far bottom corner to give the scoreline a respectable look, but three minutes later it became 3-2 when Hannah Blundell finished from close range after Ogimi had been denied.
Suddenly there was a contest on, but a much-improved Chelsea had left it just too late.
Hourihan saved well to deny a 90th minute INAC counter, but the Japanese side did find a way through once more in injury time, as captain Kawasumi got in behind the Chelsea defend and pulled back for Emi Nakajima to fire home.
Chelsea may have been beaten here but they will take valuable lessons into the forthcoming Women's Super League season, and testing themselves against Sydney and Kobe over the past week has been extremely beneficial.
Reaction from Emma Hayes
'We knew it would be a difficult game against a top team and due to the time of the year we didn't have the fitness levels to play a high-pressing game so we felt that we couldn't give them space behind us.
'In general I think we had good opportunities, we hit the bar and Yuki had a one on one but we missed those chances at crucial times and as we didn't convert 3-0 was too difficult a score to come back from, but the team showed great character second half and I think if we played them again during our season we would give them an even better game.
'I think once we complete the signings of a few more players we will add good quality to the team. But we also have some good youngsters coming through and I think you will see a much more competitive Chelsea next season.
'We have big expectations for next season at Chelsea and I think once everyone sees the signings we bring in you will see that we have very serious intentions to compete and win our league next season.
'INAC are a team that have played together for a long time and that is the difference. We have similar philosophies and they have top players but the time together was the main difference.
'Being here has allowed us to build a spirit, which is the most important thing. We will have more time to train when we are back in England and we will use this trip as a motivation for the players as it has been a massive success on and off the pitch as we have had time to spend in the community in Tokyo and Okayama.'
Chelsea Ladies (4-2-3-1): Marie Hourihan; Danni Buet (sub Laura Rafferty 88), Emma Wilhelmsson, Laura Bassett, Hannah Blundell; Allie Long (Meaghan Sargeant 67), Laura Coombs (sub Aya Noguchi 82); Rosella Ayane (sub Jodie Brett h-t), Rachel Williams, Eniola Aluko; Yuki Ogimi (c).
Unused subs: Mai Konno, Drew Spence.