The China women’s football team took a giant step towards the Olympics on Thursday, winning the first leg of their qualifying play-off 2-1 away to South Korea.
The match was first scheduled for March last year but became an early victim of the coronavirus pandemic, and was postponed three times before finally taking place in Goyang, northwest of Seoul, more than a year late.
Fan numbers were limited and the atmosphere subdued, with South Korea banning cheering at all sporting events in an effort to reduce the risk of infections.
China struck first, with Zhang Xin netting from close range in the 33rd minute.
The hosts equalised six minutes later when captain Ji So-yun of Chelsea FC Women sent through Kang Chae-rim, who shot into the upper corner.
Wang Shuang broke the deadlock for China with a 73rd-minute penalty after one of her teammates was clearly fouled in the box.
With a one-goal lead and two away goals, China — ranked 15th in the world, three places above the Taeguk Ladies — will be favourites to go through from the second leg in Suzhou on Tuesday.
Women’s football made its Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996 but the South has never qualified for the final tournament.
Cameroon face Chile for the last remaining berth in Tokyo.