Goals in either half from Yoko Tanaka and Asuka Nishikawa saw Japan claim a deserved win in front of a buoyant and colourful crowd at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
Nigeria started well, with Desire Oparanozie’s free-kick from the left flank evading everyone early on, including goalkeeper Sakiko Ikeda, only to ricochet off the far post and away to safety. However, it was to be the closest the Africans came to getting on the scoresheet in the opening period.
Midway through the first half Japan opened the scoring as Tanaka let fly from distance with the ball proving too hot for Ibubeleye Whyte. The Nigerian custodian was unable to prevent the ball entering the goal, despite getting a hand on the effort. It was Tanaka’s sixth of the competition.
Despite Nigeria having more possession in the opening period, it was the home side which had much of the momentum as the half-time whistle blew.
Five minutes after the interval Japan doubled their advantage as first-half substitute Hanae Shibata sped past several defenders just outside the penalty area, before teeing up Nishikawa with a slick short pass with the finish equally sharp.
Japan missed an opportunity to seal the match just past the hour mark, with the ball narrowly missing two attackers and hitting the far post.
They turned up the heat on the Japan defence in the latter stages, but the home side managed to hang on for third place; their best ever showing at a FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
“Playing in front of such a big crowd and being able to win will be a great experience for my players,” said Japan coach Hiroshi Yoshida. “We couldn’t reach our objective to be champions, but we really tried our best after the Nadeshiko did it [at Germany 2011] and showed us the way.
“Today and during the whole tournament, we played our own football, insisting on the uniqueness of Japanese football against teams stronger and taller. These tough games against other football styles are great experience for my players and will help them in the world arena in the future."
Nigeria coach Edwin Okon said: “It was an exciting game, but unfortunately, luck was on the Japanese side. I think that Nigeria and generally speaking Africa have a bright future in women’s football. African women's football is still improving, and we’ll see that at the next World Cup.”