FIFA under-17 women’s world cup at Costa Rica has reached its climax with just two matches left that will decide the champion, runners-up and number 3 in the tournament. These two matches will be played in capital San Jose on April 4, 2014. It was a great experience for the budding young women, who had been in Costa Rica for over two weeks. After the league games, which decided eight quarterfinalists, every team aimed at the coveted trophy. But as things stand now, only Japan and Spain have that chance. In the run up to the final, the most impressive performance came from Japan as a team and Japanese captain Hina Sugita as a player. Notably, Japan conceded the only goal in the entire tournament, when they played the semifinal against Venezuela on March 31. The debutants Italians looked every bit as promising as Japan and Spain, until they were unluckily knocked out by Spain in the other semifinal with both goals coming from penalties.
In the quarterfinal, Japan beat Mexico 2-0 to enter the semifinal for the second time in three Under-17 World Cups. The Japanese had gone ahead 2-0 at half-time and maintained their lead till the finish. The first goal from Japan came, when Rikako Kobayashi sent a low cross to Yui Hasegawa, who made no mistake in shooting in. The second goal was scored by Hina Sugita just before half-time through penalty. Nothing spectacular happened after the interval.
In the Italy-Ghana quarterfinal, it was difficult to tell, which team will go to the round of four. Ghana made a dream start, when Naomi Anima intercepted a ball cleared by an Italian defender and passed it to Lily Niber. A beautiful cross from Lily found Jane Ayieyam at goal mouth to head the ball in. But Italian girls equalized four minutes later, when Lisa Boattin’s free-kick from midfield in Ghana’s crowded penalty area came to Gloria Marinelli, who jumped in air to send a looping header into the backside of the net. Italians increased their lead through a penalty award in 17th minute, taken by Manuela Giugliano. Italians maintained the 2-1 lead till the end but in the dying seconds, a free-kick by Ghana’s Abambila cleared the Italian defense and sailed into the goal. The game had to be decided on penalties. Italy won the penalty shoot-out 4-3 to enter the semifinals to Ghana’s great disappointment.
Venezuela had a memorable quarterfinal against Canada with both teams equally matched. The first goal came, when Venezuela’s Gabriela Garcia ran with great speed on left flank and finished with a lovely cross to Deyna Castellanos, who made no mistake with a close-range shot. But Canada equalized quickly in identical fashion, when Marie Levasseur ran down the right flank and her cross found Sarah Kinzner in a perfect position. Kinzner didn’t disappoint. Five minutes from half time Levasseur scored her third goal of the tournament and Canada went 2-1 up. But the Venezuelan women restored parity soon afterwards, through Yosneidy Zambrano to make it 2-2 at half-time. Post the breather, Venezuela played a better game and the decisive goal was scored at the one-hour mark by Garcia, who dodged two defenders and shot from an acute angle. Venezuela won the quarterfinal 3-2.
In the fourth quarterfinal, Spain beat Nigeria 3-0, after leading 2-0 at half time. It was a sad moment for Nigeria, whose seven-match unbeaten stint had come to an end. Spain played a dominant game and got the first goal in the 15th minute through penalty, when the Nigerian Ugochi Emenayo brought down Andrea Falcon of Spain. Then at the 30-minute mark, Spain scored again, when Garcia received a nice pass from Dominguez, dodged a defender and beat the advancing goalkeeper. With 20 minutes left, a powerful shot from Sandra Hernandez dropped out of the goalkeeper’s hands and Guijarro was there to shoot the spill from close range.
On March 31, Japan dominated their semifinal match against Venezuela in the 4-1 win. The Japanese women kept the ball with them for most part and opened the scoring in 13th minute, when midfielder Fuka Nagano’s 25-yard free-kick sailed past the goalkeeper into the goal. Nana Ichise made it 2-0 for Japan in the 33rd minute, just tapping an un-intercepted cross in the crowded penalty area. After the break, Yui Hasegawa found herself in great position to score from a lovely cross sent by Rikako Kobayashi. The fourth goal from japan came from the magical Hina Sugita, who was brought down in the box a Venezuelan defender. Sugita’s penalty made it 4-0 for Japan. In the injury time Venezuela salvaged some prestige, when Gabriela Garcia’s cross was fired in by Deyna Castillanos.
The second semifinal between Spain and Italy was a close game and in part, the Italian girls played better. They had several opportunities but couldn’t convert any. Spain also failed to score despite forays on Italian goal. After the goalless first-half, Spain luckily earned a penalty, when Sandra Hernandez’s free-kick was hand-blocked by a defender and Sandra scored from penalty to make it 1-0 for Spain. 10 minutes from full time, Spain earned another penalty, when Laura Dominguez was fouled in the box and the stylish Nahikari Garcia scored from the spot to take Spain into the final.