Japan and Brazil were the two sides to advance from Group C of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012, though the paths they took could hardly have been more different. While the Little Nadeshiko sauntered to three comfortable wins and became the first side in the history of the competition to go through the group phase without conceding a goal, the Brazilians had to recover from a heavy defeat to the eventual group winners on the opening day and only just booked their place in their final game.
For their part, Mexico and New Zealand both put up a fight and were still in with a chance of qualifying going in the last day, when Japan ended El Tri’s hopes in emphatic fashion and the Young Football Ferns lost out in a thriller to Brazil.
Japan kicked off their flawless group campaign with a 5-0 win over Brazil, while Mexico were relieved to beat the New Zealanders 1-0 after spurning a string of chances. The South Americans recovered from their first-day mauling with a hard-fought 1-0 victory of their own over the Mexicans, while the artful Asians made short work of the Young Football Ferns, easing to a 3-0 win.
The Japanese were at it again in their third match, hitting nine goals against the CONCACAF side without reply. In the other game Brazil overcame some jittery defending to get the better of qualification rivals New Zealand by the odd goal in seven and finally seal their place in the last eight.
Big wins and clean sheets
Japan proved relentless up front, top-scoring in the entire group phase with 17 goals, and were faultless at the back, having now gone 311 minutes without conceding a FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup goal, just 39 minutes short of the record set by Korea DPR in 2010.
Brazil find their catalyst
The turning point in Brazil’s campaign came in the second half of their match against Mexico, when substitute Byanca came off the bench with instructions from her coach to go out and express herself. And that is exactly what she did, flicking the ball audaciously over the head of an opponent within minutes of coming on and scoring a sumptuous winner for her side late on, a goal that got the fans on their feet at the 8 km Stadium.
Lily stands tall
There was one very good reason why New Zealand went into the final day still in with a chance of reaching the next round despite two defeats: the form of their goalkeeper Lily Alfeld. The Kiwi custodian restricted Mexico to a single goal in their opening match and then pulled off save after save to keep the score down against the Japanese and keep her side’s goal difference respectable.
10 - The number of Japanese players who scored in the group phase, equalling the record Japan themselves set at New Zealand 2008 and which was matched by Korea Republic at Trinidad and Tobago 2010. At the opposite end of the scale stand Mexico, who managed just one goal in their three games, scored by Fernanda Perez, and hosts Azerbaijan, who departed the competition without finding the back of the net once.
“All they need is for you to switch off for a second. You can fight for 90 minutes and play a perfect game, but falter for just 30 seconds and they’ll put three goals past you. I’ve heard a lot of people say that this U-17 team is better than the U-20s and better even than Japan’s senior team. We’ve seen a magnificent group of players. If we hadn’t have had to face them, I would have loved watching them play,” New Zealand coach Paul Temple lauds group winners Japan.