Japan eventually ran out comfortable winners in their penultimate group game of the 2012 FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup, but they were made to work by a technically limited, determined New Zealand team deliberately organised to nullify the attacking talents of the Little Nadeshiko.
Head Coach Hiroshi Yoshida chose to rest five players from the side which cruised to a 5-0 victory over Brazil in their opening fixture, and made wholesale changes to the traditional three-player attacking midfield which saw Yuka Momiki, Hina Sugita and Miki Ito present in the starting line-up. Japan’s superiority in dominating territory and possession was once again evident, but Paul Temple’s team were frequently able to stifle Japan in the latter third of the pitch through a tightly packed defense and midfield, Hannah Carlsen and Daisy Cleverley particularly effective in ensuring angled passes and dribbles through the centre of the pitch were blocked.
While Rin Sumida should have converted a chance early on, a lengthy and artful passage of ball retention, recycling and distribution eventually leading to Yuka Momiki driving a cross along the six-yard area which was missed by the centre midfielder, very few clear chances presented themselves in the first period, and the outstanding Lily Alfeld was on hand in the New Zealand goal to first deny Hina Sugita and then Sumida in making two excellent saves to ensure the tie remained goalless.
Two changes altered the complexion of play in the second period. The left-back Laura Merrin, who had rendered the lively Ito largely ineffectual, was stretchered off towards the end of the first period after a nasty collision with one of her own defenders, and Ito was withdrawn at half-time for Yui Hasegawa. Hasegawa’s influence on play was immediate, and she scored the first of her two goals on sixty minutes. Momiki’s outswinging corner wasn’t dealt with by the New Zealand defence, and an accidental touch from Saka Ishii enabled Hasegawa to guide a shot into the bottom left-corner, Alfeld unable to push the ball around her right upright.
With twelve minutes to play Hasegawa doubled the lead, collecting a pass from Sumida and breaking infield before finding the top of the net with a swerving 22-yard effort. Japan wrapped up the victory and the three points in the third minute of stoppage time, Megan Lee bundling over Sumida in the penalty area, and Sumida stepped up to place the spot kick beyond the reach of Alfeld.
Japan will top Group C provided they avoid a crushing defeat against Mexico, and should they emerge as group victors they will face the Runner-up of a very competitive Group D in the quarter-finals, as they attempt to go one place better than in the 2010 edition of the competition.
Hasegawa 60′, 78′
Sumida (Pen.) 90’+3
(Matches played 26 September 2012)