After displaying their superior football skill for over two weeks in Costa Rica, the Japanese U-17 women emerged as worthy winners of 2014 World Cup. For the umpteenth time in the tournament, Captain Hina Sugita was named as the player of the match. The little bundle of Japanese dynamo, moved around purposefully and her combination game with Hasegawa was a treat to watch. For Hina, it was like living a dream after missing the champions tag at the previous event in Azerbaijan in 2012, when she was part of the Japanese team, which lost in the quarterfinals to Ghana.
Playing in front of 30000-capacity crowd at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose, the Japanese women demonstrated their energetic game and though Spain also produced some flashes of brilliance, the Japanese upper hand was clearly visible. The victory margin of 2-0 turned out to be identical to the score, with which Japan had beaten Spain in their group encounter on March 17, 2014. It was a satisfactory end for Japan, who played outstanding football all through the tournament. They conceded just one goal in their last semifinal game against Venezuela. Otherwise their defense was solid and they thwarted every opportunity from the opponents to score against them in the entire tournament.
The first goal came in the 5th minute from the start. A fast-moving Shiho Matsubara was not so close to the goal but from the right flank, she aimed at the Spanish goal with a looping shot. The Spanish goalkeeper Elena De Toro jumped up and she thought she had cleared Matsubara’s attempt but the ball hit the crossbar and bounced back in front the Japanese forward Meika Nishida. Before Tora could react, Nishida pounced on the rebound to put Japan ahead 1-0. The early lead raised the tempo of the game and both side made attempts at each other’s goals. The teams went back to their dug-outs at the half-time score of 1-0.
After the break, Spain made valiant attempts but Japanese goalkeeper Mamiko Matsumoto was determined not to concede any more goals after her tearful and inconsolable demeanor in the semifinal against Venezuela, when the Japanese goal-line was breached for the only time. Japan made a substitution in 61st minute to bring in Fuka Kono in place of Yu Endo. Kono looked promising from the time she arrived. Her first shot on Spanish goal came midway through the second half as she aimed a low-angled shot into the goal only to see De Toro make a great save. In the 78th minute, after Kobayashi breached the Spanish defense and sent a low cross to Kono, she didn’t err and was bang on target after beating the advancing De Toro. Japan would have got their third goal with four minutes remaining, when Kono sent a lovely cross to Mizuki Saihara. But Saihara’s shot hit the cross bar. For Japan, Hina Sugita and Hasegawa were perfect playmakers and their combination created many opportunities for Japan. In the end, it was a great finish for Japanese women, whose indomitable spirit remained intact all through the tournament.
Before the final, Italy and Venezuela had a play-off game for third place. This game turned out to be an edge-of-the-seat action packed thriller. It was the first-time semifinal for both Italy and Venezuela in the U-17 world cup. Italy went ahead in 16th minute, when Gloria Marinelli ran down the right flank and sent a perfect feed to Valentina Bergamaschi near the penalty spot for her to make a cool finish. But at the stroke of half-time, Venezuela equalized. Tahicelis Marcano created a long-range missile, which sailed over the goalkeeper’s head and fell into the goal. The teams went to half-time with a score of 1-1.
The Italians reclaimed the lead in the 55th minute through a 25-meter shot from the Italian Manuela Giugliano in much the same way, in which Venezuelans had earned their equalizer earlier. 5 minutes later, Venezuela equalized once again, when Gabriela Garcia found a deflection coming to her at eye level. Garcia didn’t lose a moment in heading the ball into the goal. The action didn’t stop there, when within just one minute, Giugliano scored her second goal from an accurate volley from near the penalty area to put Italy ahead 3-2. For the third time that night, Venezuela found the equalizer as Garcia scored her second goal after getting a great pass from Rodrigues and had the sense to lob the ball into the goal over the keeper’s head. Garcia, who has had a great tournament at Costa Rica, could have scored again, when she penetrated the defense but Italian goalie Francesca Durante pushed out her shot. Italian women took another lead in the 79th minute from a perfect pass from Giugliano, which found Flaminia Simonetti in a position to score Italy’s fourth goal. Just when it looked like the Italian’s game, Venezuela produced another equalizer 5 minutes into injury time, when Sandra Luzardo drove a loose ball into the Italian goal. The match ended with a score of 4-4 and had to be decided on penalties. The adventurous South African disappointed in penalty shoot-out by missing two attempts with the other two being saved by the Italian goalkeeper.