It was yet another Japan masterclass on Thursday, as the Young Nadeshiko stormed into the last four at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016 with a stylish 3-1 win over Brazil. Japan’s usual attacking outlets – Yui Hasegawa, Yuka Momiki and Hina Sugita - were prominent as always, but this time it was another name to the fore; Shiho Matsubara.
Coming on at half-time, Matsubara netted after just five minutes and added a second midway through the second half. Her second goal was taken with the poise of a supremely confident player. Controlling an awkward bouncing cross at the back post, Matsubara brought it down, shimmied past a defender and side-footed the ball inside the furthest post.
Japan have already scored 14 goals in just four outings thus far at Papua New Guinea 2016. In truth, they could have easily have scored more than three against Brazil at Port Moresby’s National Football Stadium on Thursday evening.
“The coach told us to chase more goals at half-time and put the game away,” Matsubara told FIFA.com. “We stepped up and had a good second half. I did the job for the team that I could, and tried to contribute where I could and the task I was set. Every small contribution greatly helps.”
Nine games played, four goals scored. That is the record at FIFA tournaments for Matsubara. Not a bad goalscoring return for a defender. But while Matsubara is ostensibly lining up in the Japan squad as a defender, coach Asako Takakura has long used the 19-year-old as a utility player. It was exactly the same scenario in Costa Rica two years ago when Takakura led her Little Nadeshiko side, Matsubara included, to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup title. Matsubara has even been known to play in the forward line for her Nadeshiko League side Cerezo Osaka.
“It was a good feeling then,” said Matsubara, reflecting on what was a deserved win for Japan at Costa Rica 2014. "But this is a different category where the stakes are much higher. The accumulated pressure and the different factors are much higher now.”
Japan boast a remarkable record at U-17 level - they fell just short of a second title in Jordan only last month – but success has been harder to come by at U-20 level. Only once prior to Papua New Guinea 2016 have Japan reached the semi-finals, and that was on home soil four years ago. Can they make history this time?
“We didn’t qualify last time and so we were mindful of first improving on that first of all,” Matsubara said. “All teams want to be the best in the world, and we are now well placed to achieve that.
“It is a do or die time, and of course, once we lose we go back home, and that is not our purpose or goal when we arrived yet. We are working on the notion that we will keep winning and I feel confident and have a good feeling about this tournament.”