The second semi-final at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014 pits together European rivals Italy and Spain. Both teams are gunning for a first-ever World Cup final appearance in the category.
Italy-Spain (Liberia, 31 March 2014, 20.00)
In their very first appearance at an U-17 Women’s World Cup, Italy have made it to the last four. Le Azzurrine finished runners-up in their group, ahead of Zambia and hosts Costa Rica, and behind Venezuela, against whom they suffered their only defeat. In the quarter-final against Ghana the Europeans came under severe pressure throughout the second half, but defended stoutly and restricted the Africans to few goalscoring chances. Italy then showed a fighting attitude and nerves of steel in the penalty shoot-out, with goalkeeper Francesca Durante the heroine as she made the saves that saw her team progress.
The miserly Italian defence will now face a stern test against Spain, who have been ominously finding their form as the tournament advances. Las Rojitas bounced back from the disappointment of a 2-0 defeat in their opening match against Japan with convincing wins over New Zealand (3-0) and Paraguay (7-1) respectively. In the quarter-final, the Spanish girls hit top gear, categorically dispatching Nigeria 3-0. Spain have been playing some wonderful passing football, making it difficult for their opponents to get a sniff of the ball. A tight semi-final is on the cards then, and the ability of either side to make the most of what are likely to be few goalscoring opportunities may well be key.
Player to watch
Italian right-back Marta Vergani is the shortest player in the team at just 4’11, yet that does not stop her from disputing every challenge, as shown in the Ghana match when she invariably came out on top against her taller adversaries. As Spain generally attack down the wings, Vergani can expect another busy evening.
13 – In their last four matches at Costa Rica 2014, Las Rojitas have scored 13 goals, making them the second top scorers behind Japan. The European Championship runners-up also have a mean defence. The Spanish have only conceded three goals, which is the third best defensive record at the tournament, jointly with Italy. Only Japan (zero) and Venezuela (two) have let in fewer goals. The Italian attack, on the other hand, is yet to set the competition on fire, scoring five goals in their four matches so far.
“We are living the dream at this World Cup and I am so proud of what my team have done. In Liberia the climate is different, but that won’t be a problem. I’m looking forward to the match against our Spanish friends.”
Enrico Sbardella, Italy coach
“It’s not the first time we’ve faced Italy, but we’ll study them carefully ahead of the game. We will go into the match with the same attitude as in our previous games.”
Patri Guijarro, Spain midfielder