WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Japan held the ball far less against Spain than it did in its first two Women’s World Cup matches and yet kept right on scoring.
Japan switched tactics in its final Group C match, moving from a possession-oriented style to quick counterattacks. The result was a 4-0 trouncing of the sixth-ranked team in the world, a first-place finish in the group, and a display of versatility that makes Japan look like a serious title contender.
Playing in a stadium dominated by their fans, the Japanese time and again swarmed the Spanish offense, stole the ball, and moved up the pitch as aggressively as possible. Japanese forward Hinata Miyazawa scored twice and said she “never imagined” such offensive power.
“Achieving the result is something that is a great pleasure for me,” she said. “It’s everybody’s goal together, not just me.”
Miyazawa’s performance against Spain was the latest in a run that’s elevated her to one of the tournament’s best forwards. She has four goals and an assist in three games.
It’s a remarkable turnaround from Japan’s 2019 performance at the Women’s World Cup, when the entire team scored three goals in four games.
Japan’s aggressive play was noticeably different from Spain’s approach. The Spanish took their time in possession, moved the ball around and tried to poke holes in the Japanese backline. It didn’t work and Japan claimed its third shutout through three games at the tournament.
The Japanese were an unyielding block on defense, which forced Spain toward the edges of the pitch. while the Japanese flooded the box to avoid giving up a goal from a cross. La Roja had just one shot on goal in the first half, which goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita comfortably saved.
“We passed the ball many times, but horizontally, and it was not what we were looking for,” Spanish coach Jorge Vilda said through a translator. “What we always look for is to reach the opponent’s goal. We were not able to achieve this.”
Japan’s counter-attacking style was far different from its previous matches. Against Zambia and Costa Rica, Japan held the majority of possession. Against Spain, Japan only controlled possession 24% of the time.
“The first and the second game, we had more time for us to be able to work with the ball and be able to be careful on their counterattack,” Japan manager Futoshi Ikeda said.
Futoshi prepared his team to spend the majority of the game against Spain on defense and then “take advantage of whatever opportunity” they had.
Joe Lister is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.
AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup