A first-half brace from Yui Hasegawa was enough for Japan as they eased past Iceland.
Setting the tempo
Starting the match on the same not their finished their last on, Japan were on the offensive from the off, pressing and working Iceland, penning them in their own half. Good link-up between Mina Tanaka and Yui Hasegawa saw a chance open up for Kumi Yokoyama, her cross-cum-shot palmed away but Guðbjörg Gunnarsdóttir. The Japanese were relentless and refused to give Iceland an inch when the Nordic team attempted to play out or make ground in midfield.
With a real fire in their stomachs it didn’t take long for Japan to open the scoring, Hasegawa’s shot from distance too much for Gunnarsdóttir who was far from her line as the ball looped over and into the waiting net. Despite a good rally from Iceland, they were soon down two goals as Nadeshiko began to floor their box and overload the defence. The first shot saved, the second ball cleared but no one to cover Hasegawa at the back post as she volleyed home.
Japan attacked in numbers, waves of players flocking forward not allowing Iceland breathing room in the box and at two up they looked certain to add a third but the away side held strong, not letting their heads drop as they grew in midfield.
The progress was slow but it was there as Iceland started to push back against the dominant Japanese, matching their opponents out wide, the game opening but Nadeshiko still firm at the back. Ayaka Yamashita called into action to claim middling crosses, the keeper not tested at all throughout the half, Iceland still lacking something clinical when they could get forward – as Japan continued to threaten a third.
Better shape, better chances
Iceland started the second-half better, having calmed over the break they did well to hold their shape and stand their ground, allowing Japan less of the ball than in the first-half. However the problem persisted with Iceland’s attacks, even at corners, they didn’t look sure of themselves, Yamashita yet to be tested and no one taking the initiative.
With a free kick right on the line – and the players appealing for a penalty – there wasn’t a better time for Iceland to cut their losses but a poor ball failed to beat the wall and the danger was easily averted. For the Norse team, the tempo was at least up, confidence restored to the team as they felt they could get something from the match, more white shirts keen to get forward and press.
The Icelandic spell passed and Japan once more began to assert themselves, white shirts doing all they could to crowd the box and deny and block and clear chances. A neat one-two between Mana Iwabuchi and Yuri Kawamura gifted the latter a chance but Gunnarsdóttir was on hand to make a smart stop, the away defence side tiring and Japan still full of life with ten minutes still to play.
In truth the game had been won inside of the first twenty minutes, Japan just happy to play with their opponents, Iceland with the opportunity to stage a comeback but never looking like they were going to score, there was little for Nadeshiko to be worried about. Always set to be a tough game for Iceland if Japan got their feet settled, the response from Freyr Alexandersson’s team again was the take away for the coach, their second-half shape enough to keep Japan quiet after the break. The news for Asako Takakura is good, her team looking more like the Japan fans are used to.