The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw the opening of the Japanese women’s team performance on Monday, June 10, in a match in Paris, France.
At 6 P.M. local time, at the Parc Des Princes in Paris, the teams kicked off, with Stephanie Frappart refereeing. The 94-minute match ended 0-0 — a frustrating result for Japan and a victory for Argentina, which stuck to its strategy of strong defense.
Among commentators, the expectations were favoring Japan. Known in the popular imagination as nadeshiko — meaning the embodiment of poised and graceful femininity in the face of adversity like the beautiful Yamato nadeshiko (wild frilled carnation) flower — the Japanese team had impressively taken home the world title in 2011, winning 2-2 at the penalty kicks against the United States in the final.
That was a particularly welcome victory for Japan, as the first victory came against historically undefeated opponents (previously faced 25 times without success). But it also came only a couple of months after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, thereby providing a welcome distraction after a disaster which took the lives of nearly 20,000 people.
Japan came close to winning once more four years later, but the U.S. team came back for revenge, snatching the world title in the World Cup Final in 2015.
This time, in Paris, Japan wasn’t facing an easy ride in Group D of the first round of games. With England and Scotland ahead, it looked as though Japan could gain from winning the first game against Argentina.
This was especially true as Argentina’s track record wasn’t stellar — it was only the third time that the female national team had qualified for the games. In addition, Argentina had previously conceded an average of 5.5 goals, and on their last opening match with Germany in 2007 they lost 11-0. The hopes were that the squad might up the status of female football in the country, as the Argentinian Football Association (AFA) finally announced earlier this year the opening of the professional female football league starting from June 2019.
The Game: A Frustrated Japan
The game started slowly, with Japan trying to score goals with what appeared to be little conviction. But Argentina stuck to their guns, focusing on defense.
As early as the 9th minute in the first half, unmarked Emi Nakajima tried to shoot for goal, but hit too wide and missed. At the 10-minute mark Yuika Sugasawa also tried to score a goal, but only managed to hit a straight shot at Vanina Correa, the Argentinian goalkeeper, who saved the ball easily.
With most of the first half gone, Japan had more than half the possessions of the ball, but nothing to show for it. The frustration seemed to show, as Japan was assigned a yellow card when Risa Shimuzu crashed into Estefania Benini from behind.
The second half saw a little more effort from Japan to score a goal and therefore bringing Japan to the top of Group D together with England, which won 2-1 against Scotland on June 9.
At the 50th minute, Kumi Yokohama puts a good low shot on Correa from far out. The Argentinian goalkeeper managed to save it, but passed it to Sugasawa, who failed to turn the chance into a goal by overshooting. Japan also had a tantalizing opportunity six minutes later, when Yui Hasegawa, unmarked, tried for a frontal shot, but the ball went wide to the left.
Argentina picked up its pace at the end of the game. For example, Flor Bosegundo tried to score at the 73rd minute, but kicked an easy shot to Ayaka Yamashita, the Japanese goalkeeper.
After the game ended with an extra four minutes, the score was 0-0. In tournament terms, however, this gained Argentina and Japan both one point a piece, following the FIFA point system, which adds up points to decide which team progresses to the following stage, with three points for a win, one point for a draw, and a negative point for a loss. Argentina, therefore, without having scored a single goal, celebrated the result with its first-ever point gained in the FIFA World Cup.
Japan couldn’t have been too happy with the result. However, commentators also pointed out that the young squad with many first-timers at the World Cup might have been a factor.
The fight isn’t over yet. Japan will be facing Scotland on June 14, at 10 P.M. JST, in order to qualify for the next round. It remains to be seen whether Japan will change its strategy to live up to everyone’s expectations.
Author: Arielle Busetto