But for an 11th-hour goal conceded against Venezuela, Japan's Mamiko Matsumoto would be entering Friday’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup final against Spain on the cusp of personal glory. The calm and composed goalkeeper was just 12 minutes away from the competition record for the longest period without her goal being breached – a mark set by Ghana’s Victoria Agyei in 2012. However, Deyna Castellanos’ injury-time strike ended that streak just as it seemed certain that Japan’s mighty defence would remain unbreached for a fifth match in succession.
Japan’s combination play and individual technical ability has highlighted the Little Nadeshiko’s road to the final. But, of course, any championship-winning team is based on a sound defence. And that has certainly been the case for Japan, with their reliable defence quartet backed by the soothing presence of Matsumoto. Though she was smiling while talking to the media after the match, Matsumoto still spoke with a mentality that suggests a steely focus.
“It was very disappointing to concede a goal at that point,” Matsumoto told FIFA.com with trademark Nadeshiko poise and grace. “Personally I’m very glad to be in the final but my goal was not to concede. My aim in the final is to maintain a clean sheet.”
While Matsumoto has not been overworked at the tournament, she clearly maintained an impressive level of concentration as evidenced by her back-peddling stop to keep out a surprise long-range effort from Daniuska Rodriguez which seemed set to creep under the crossbar. “We knew that Venezuela were very powerful with their shooting so I was always aware [of that possibility],” said Matsumoto refusing to acknowledge the quality of the save. “I was looking into the light so I wasn’t confident, but I was determined not to concede that goal.”
Matsumoto lists her favourite player as USA goalkeeper Hope Solo “because she is beautiful and has strong spirit”, but says her inspiration is Nozomi Yamago, the long-serving former Japan No1 who used to play for the same club in Urawa Red Diamonds. Now Matsumoto is 90 minutes away from etching her own name, and those of her team-mates, into the record books as Japan seek to earn their maiden title at U-17 level.
“We are very close to winning this tournament, and becoming champions was a dream,” she said. “Now we have a very good chance of making our dream come true. Before the tournament we were not considered so favourably but we were very confident in our teamwork, so we always believed in ourselves.”