Spain set the tempo
After Japan’s collapse during AFC Olympic qualification it was clear something had just stopped working for Nadeshiko, a team still in transition they continued to look lost against Spain, La Roja gifted all of the possession in the opening quarter of an hour. Half chances came and went for Veronica Boquete and Jenni Hermoso, the defence always just the right side of the attacker to keep Erina Yamane covered. Mina Tanaka a lone figure for the former World Champions as they looked for a footing in the game, dark blue invariably gobbled up by red.
A Spanish free kick on the edge of the area promised far more than it delivered as Alexia Putellas slammed the ball against the wall and the Asian side cleared the resulting danger, Putellas involved again moments later as she skimmed at shot at goal. The effort a culmination of heavy pressure in the area but still Japan stayed tight at the back, the shot bobbling and bouncing all the way through to Yamane.
The game continued on in the same vein, Japan holding a high-line even with everyone piled into midfield, Spain unable to get in behind, La Roja stifled, a lack of urgency in midfield halting them from advancing on goal. At the other end of the pitch Yu Nakastao was still trying to work an opening, her teammates invariably not on the same page, the progress for Nadeshiko slow.
Lack of bite
Japan won the first corner of the game just after the half hour after Emi Nakajima went on an unencumbered run into the box, the Spanish defence slack, allowing the attacker to dance into the box, a last-minute boot enough to clear the mounting danger. The argy-bargy at the corner more interesting than the delivery, both teams falling over each other to win the ball as the two scrapped around the spot, Sandra Paños untroubled by the attempted bicycle kick that came her way.
35 minutes into the game and Spain finally had the gilt-edged chance they were after when Amanda Sampedro carried the ball down the right wing, Boquete finally in front of her marker but Sampedro refused to lay-off early, her ball across far too deep. The Spanish numbers forward kept the ball as the box crowded but Hermoso managed to make a healthy connection with the ball, her shot on target, the target; Yamane’s gloves. Another chance came the way of Spanish side, for them controversy as their initial free kick was ruled out as it punched the back of the net, the ball rolling, the ref hadn’t restarted play, they were forced to take again, Putellas sent it through the wall but again it was easy for Yamane.
Competitive in the second
Spain hit the ground running after the break, Olga García’s improvised lob from 25 yards something for Yamane to claw at, her scant touch on the ball enough to push it against the bar, the ball opting to land the right side of the line for the hosts. With the ball in hand and at feet Japan looked to counter, the side under the cosh immediately showing more bite in the second-half. Showing more attacking zest came to be Japan’s undoing just before the hour, when half-time substitute Silvia Meseguer struck a low shot from outside the area, the keeper beaten at full-stretch as the ball slipped inside of the near post.
With both teams looking to stamp their authority on the match the game was far more open, the increased space at the back left more space for Spain as Japan continued to look disjointed across the pitch. With a clear route to goal in site, García jinked her way into the box, her shot aimed beyond Yamane’s reach and into the bottom corner massively deflected by Saki Kumagai, wrong-footing her ‘keeper to crest into the middle of the net. The second goal only spurred La Roja on, the attack-happy team hungry for more, as Sonia Bermudez looked to make it three with an arced shot from distance, her ball rolling over the top of the bar without troubling Yamane.
Japan stir into life
Whilst Spain had attacked well enough they continued to look exposed at the back, their attacking presence enough to be used as a substitute for an assured defence. Two goals to the good and cruising there was little pressure on Kumi Yokoyama as she slipped through the middle of the park, the defence left for dust and Paños keen to come out and leave her goal vulnerable it was easy enough for the Nagano Parceiro woman to roll the ball under the hapless keeper.
It was late in the day but Japan had come to life, their engine turning over for the first time in a long time, the chances coming thick and fast, corner’s followed free kicks and Spain rocked from side to side like a finishing boat in a storm. With time not on their side, Japan were left to rue the rash of late half-chances as Spain roared back at them, Jorge Vilda encouraging his side forward through stoppage time with shouts of “vamos”, the team having worked to hard to let a win slip into a draw. The game ended frantically with Japan unable to dig out another chance and Spain happy to ride out the late storm.