Group A: Japan shine as Mexico surge

28 Aug 2012

The Young Nadeshiko finished unbeaten at the conclusion of Group A action but had to dig deep to draw 2-2 with New Zealand after falling 2-0 behind early on. Japan’s attacking edge was evident as they scored four goals against Mexico and Switzerland, although some defensive frailties were also exposed. Mexico rebounded from a 4-1 rout by Japan to chalk up two successive wins that carried them through. The Junior Football Ferns eventually ran out of steam in their final game and missed reaching the knock-out stage for what would have been the first time, while Switzerland ended the tournament winless.

The group replayedJapan cruised past Mexico in the opening game as midfielders Yoko Tanaka and Hikaru Naomoto, and forward Kumi Yokoyama, starred in a sparkling display, while Rosie White scored the winner for New Zealand as they defeated Switzerland. The Kiwis and the host nation then faced off in their second game, but neither could seal a place in the quarter-finals as an entertaining encounter ended 2-2. In the other fixture, Mexico beat Switzerland to keep alive their hopes of progressing.

In the final game, Japan emphatically beat the Swiss 4-0 and Mexico ended New Zealand’s brave run by the same score to finish on six points, two ahead of the Oceania champions.

Memorable Moments*Young Nadeshiko deadly from distance* In the opening game against Mexico, Naomoto and Yokoyama proved lethal from long range with two unstoppable shots. Latching onto a pass all of 25 yards from goal, Naomoto unleashed a curling right-footed effort that sailed into the top right-hand corner. Yokoyama followed this up with a finish just as special. In possession just outside the box, she made space with some deft footwork before firing off a stunning right-foot shot that flew into the opposite corner. She described her goal celebrations as a “one time only” gesture to a couple of team-mates who had to miss the tournament due to injury.

Fans adopt Swiss team Switzerland did not win a match at this tournament, but their commitment to fair play won the hearts of the more than 16,000 spectators at National Stadium in Tokyo for their final game against Japan. Swiss coach Yannick Schwery further endeared himself to the local fans by attending a press conference while wearing a Japanese national team shirt handed to him by a local supporter.

Do or die Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar billed his team’s final game against New Zealand as a “do or die affair”. A win would secure a quarter-final spot, while anything else would mean the end of the road. Cuellar made his intent clear by selecting three forwards for the game, and the willingness to attack paid off as Las Aztecas broke down the Kiwi defence and ended up comfortable winners. Just as pleasing for Cuellar was the clean sheet kept by his defenders.

The Stat4 – The number of goals scored by Japanese midfielder Yoko Tanaka in the group stage. Tanaka found the net in each game and is second in the overall goal-scoring charts at this tournament. Tanaka has showed her full repertoire at Japan 2012: she scored a penalty against Mexico, a right-footed goal against New Zealand, before converting stunning free-kicks with both feet against Switzerland. Coincidentally, New Zealand scored four goals in total in their three games.

The words“All in all, I’m proud of my team. If you’d predicted before the tournament that New Zealand would get four points from a group including the host nation, we’d have been satisfied with that. But four points wasn’t enough to progress, so the team is a bit dejected. We played Japan and Mexico, and if I had to play one of them again for three points, I’d pick Mexico. Japan are in a different league,” New Zealand coach Aaron McFarland.