Spain seek final vindication
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The much-anticipated final of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup has served up a repeat of one of Group C’s most intriguing fixtures, in which Japan recorded a surprisingly comfortable 2-0 victory over Spain. Can the young Spaniards gain revenge and emerge victorious from Costa Rica 2014?

Match of the day
Japan-Spain, San Jose, 4 April 2014, 17.00 (local time)
Since the beginning of the competition, the Japanese have impressed with their powerful performances; indeed, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Little Nadeshiko have yet to be properly tested. Their record speaks for itself: 21 goals for and one against. Furthermore, coach Asako Takemoto Takakura has been able to tinker with the starting line-up without adversely affecting the team’s results – all 21 Japanese players present in Central America, including both reserve goalkeepers, have gained playing time. This consistent approach also extends to their style of play, with the Asians working together to leave their opponents with very little space in which to manoeuvre.

Conversely, Spain had to dig deep to reach Friday’s showpiece clash. Against Italy in the semi-final, the Iberians, who were missing the suspended Pilar Garrote in midfield, came extremely close to falling behind on more than one occasion. In the second half, the reigning European champions forced their way back into the encounter and eventually prevailed. One major plus point for Las Rojitas will be the return of the influential Garrote.

The final promises a confrontation between two teams that play very similar styles. They both avoid long balls if they can help it, preferring to rely on quick passes and interplay to break down the opposition. Spain will need to find a way to stop the Japanese, who have enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in their matches so far, from monopolising the ball and thereby diminishing their attacking threat.

Player to watch
Hina Sugita has already hit the net five times at Costa Rica 2014. Including the two goals she bagged in 2012, her U-17 World Cup total now stands at seven, which places her third in the all-time scoring table, behind Yeo Minji (Korea Republic) and Ri Un-Sim (Korea DPR), who struck eight times in 2010 and 2012. With one game to go, the Japanese midfielder could well draw level with or even overtake her fellow Asians.

The stat
3 – Spain have given up just three goals since the beginning of the event, a statistic that has only been bettered by one other team, Japan. Both Paraguay and Japan (twice) were able to find a way past Elena de Toro in the Spanish rearguard.

The words
“I played in the U-17 World Cup at Azerbaijan 2012. Back then, our goal was to lift the trophy, but we were eliminated in the quarter-finals. This time, there’s no way we’ll fail when we’re so close to our aim,” Yui Hasegawa, Japan midfielder.

“In football, you always get a second bite of the cherry. And nowhere does it say that history will necessarily repeat itself,” Andrea Falcon, Spain forward. 

The schedule
Friday 3 April
Play-off for third place
Venezuela-Italy (Estadio Nacional, San Jose, 14.00)

Japan-Spain (Estadio Nacional, San Jose, 17.00)