Japan 4-0 Spain: Nadeshiko top Group C

With the winner of Group C going on to face Norway, there were concerns that this would play out as a rather dull affair as both teams sought to finish second and receive a more favourable draw against Switzerland. But as these two global heavyweight clash in the group stage, there was never likely to be anything predictable about this match.

JPN: Yamashita; Minami, Kumagai, Takahashi; Endo, Nagano, Hayashi, Shimizu; Naomoto, Ueki, Miyazawa

ESP: Misa; Carmona, Gálvez, Paredes, Batlle; Putellas, Abelleira, Bonmatí; Caldentey, Hermoso, Paralluelo

Spain quickly put concerns about this being a lethargic affair to bed as Mariona Caldentey played through Aitana Bonmatí after just five minutes, but the Barça midfielder wasn’t quite able to latch onto the volley as the watched the ball trickle out wide.

But in the twelfth minute, it was the Nadeshiko that found the opening goal of the game – moving them to the top of Group C. Saki Kumagai sought to find Jun Endo with a neat pass, allowing the wing-back to open up her body and create space to thread a through ball between the Spanish defence. Hinata Miyazawa was the designated recipient, dashing into a one-on-one with Misa before picking out the bottom-left corner.

Yet while Spain remained in firm control of the possession statistics, it was Japan that looked the more dangerous of the two sides on the counter-attack. Riko Ueki looked lethal as the focal point of the Japanese attack, bagging the Nadeshiko’s second of the match just before the half-hour mark. A disappointing loss of possession from the Spaniards allowed Hinata Miyazawa to surge towards goal, laying the ball off to Ueki – whose strike took a deflection off Irene Paredes as it beat the ‘keeper.

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Spain did come close to threatening Ayaka Yamashita’s clean sheet with ten first-half minutes still to play, as Ona Batlle’s cross looked to tee up Jenni Hermoso – though the forward’s header looped over the crossbar before settling on the roof of the net.

But Japan found another breakthrough in the 40th minute, putting themselves three goals to the good and in comfortable control of the result. Hinata Miyazawa has been ever impressive for the Nadeshiko, and she moved herself into pole position in the race for the Golden Boot with her fourth strike of the tournament thus far. The forward’s linkup play with Riko Ueki is simply a sight to behold, as the winger dashed onto Ueki’s through ball before picking out the top-left corner with a first-time effort!

Spain sought to find a way back into the contest in the second half, as Ona Batlle – now operating on the left flank – looked to curl an effort towards goal, though the Barça star’s effort flew wide of the far post.

But la Roja’s wave of pressure was quick to fade, with Japan unlucky not to bag their fourth of the match as Riko Ueki slipped on her charge into the box. Hikaru Naomoto looked to pick up the pieces, though her strike was sent looping into Misa’s gloves.

With desperation growing amongst the Spanish ranks, Teresa Abelleira attempted a rather speculative strike from distance after receiving a neat flicked pass from Aitana Bonmatí – but the midfielder’s effort was launched well over the crossbar as Spain’s hopes of a comeback seemed to die.

And for the first time in eleven years, Spain conceded four goals – with Minami Tanaka providing the finishing blow in a game that had been utterly dominated by the Nadeshiko. Having received the ball on the right flank, the forward darted infield, jinking past Ona Batlle and Rocío Gálvez before picking out the top corner with phenomenal precision.

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Hikaru Naomoto came unbelievably close to adding the fifth from a free-kick, worrying Misa as her strike looked destined to settle in the top-left corner – though the Japanese star’s effort ultimately nestled on the roof of the net.

Japan had to settle for four though as the final whistle blew. Despite this hefty defeat, Spain progress to the round-of-sixteen and arguably receive the more favourable draw as they kickstart their knockout campaign. La Roja will face Switzerland at 6am UK time on August 5, while Japan take on Norway three hours later.