Spain made a historic SheBelieves tournament debut as they beat Japan 3-1 yesterday at the Exploria Stadium.
The story of women’s football in Spain has been somewhat overshadowed recently by the ongoing battles for minimum pay settlements and better working conditions, but the national team had all eyes on them for the right reasons yesterday afternoon as they overcame an experienced Japanese side during their tournament debut.
Spain opened the tournament with an early goal in the eighth minute. Marta Cardona broke into Japan’s box and played the ball to FIFA’s Tournament Player to Watch, Jennifer Hermoso, who subsequently found herself with enough time in the penalty area to look up and find Alexia Putellas charging ahead of her defender towards the left-post. A simple tap in from Putellas was all that was needed to put La Roja 1-0 up.
Japan broke shortly after as the ball was played through to Yuika Sugasawa who finds herself in front of Spain’s defence on the edge of the box. One on one with the keeper, Sugasawa could, and probably should have, played herself into more space with a touch, but instead hits the ball first time which is pushed away for a corner by Gallardo.
Spain had the better of chances in the first half. Japan goalie Yamashita has to dive to keep Patri Guijarro’s 25-yard strike from putting the Spaniards 2-0 up, and just moments after, an effort from Putellas flies inches past the Japanese post.
Japan’s equaliser came just before the break in the form of an unusually spectacular goal from Mana Iwabuchi. Following a ball from Risa Shimizu on the right-wing, the Japanese forward lunges to make any contact with the ball, hitting it on the volley, which ends up looping over Gallardo’s head and into the net.
Spain came out into the second half all guns blazing, and it didn’t take them long to regain a lead. In the 47th minute, Japan spends too much time on the ball in their own half which costs them when Lucía García, who was subbed on during the break, wrestles with a panicked Japanese defence, breaks free and touches the ball past Yamashita, slotting the ball into goal from a wide-angle to make it two.
From then on, the chances keep on coming from Spain. García has several excellent opportunities before securing the third and final goal. The most notable comes from yet again, poor Japanese defending as a long ball from Spain’s half loops over to find García who takes it down and glides through Japan’s back-line, her effort only to be saved by Yamashita.
In the 78th minute, Garcia’s power is too much for defender Saki Kumagai who ends up losing the ball to the Spanish forward. García, then one on one with Yamashita, still has a lot to do but calmly touches it past the Japanese goalie who is left to watch as García’s ball rockets into the back of the net.
Although only subbed on at halftime, Lucía García’s performance was an exciting one. Her constant pressure on the Japanese defence paid off several times, with the back-line struggling to keep the ball in the presence of the Spanish forward. Spain’s first goal was indicative of a strong team bond who can effectively communicate throughout a game.
An impressively mesmerising goal from Japan wasn’t enough to keep them in this game. A leaky defence cost them on too many occasions, leaving Spain’s powerful attackers with far too much space, and without Yamashita in goal to keep them alive, I predict the scoreline could have finished a lot less flattering.