Asia FIFA World Cup

Spain Sends Japan Packing with Hard-Fought Win

Barcelona’s rising youngster Marc Guiu was the decisive factor behind Spain U-17’s 2-1 win over Japan U-17 in their FIFA U-17 World Cup round of 16 tie on Monday, as his winning goal ensured Spain’s passage into the quarterfinals while at the same time ending Japan’s valiant resistance in heart-breaking fashion.

The match at Solo’s Manahan Stadium started off as a cagey affair – Japan with their slick passing game going up against the perfect opponent in a Spain side that relied on possession play. The Young Samurai Blues couldn’t afford to have the Young La Furia Roja holding onto the ball for too long – however they made the mistake of doing so early in the game and Spain got themselves the opener after just eight minutes.

A through pass from Juan Hernandez managed to slice the Japanese defense open, with the ball evading Guiu before latching onto the foot of Quim Junyent. Junyent easily outsmarted Japan captain Keita Kosugi before firing the ball into the lower right corner of the goal past a diving Wataru Goto.

The goal stung Japan into action and eight minutes later Yoshiro Moriyama’s boys nearly made it 1-1 – Gaku Nawata with a spectacular speculative effort from outside the area, only for Spain goalkeeper Raul Jimenez to deny him with a superb save as he palmed the ball away into safety.

Japan kept pushing forward and eventually they persevered in the 40th minute. Ryunosuke Sato managed to cleanly nick the ball off Daniel Munoz – who pulled a muscle in the tussle – before laying a low cross from the right flank towards Nawata, who was prowling on the edge of the penalty area. Nawata then blasted a shot past Jimenez in the Spain goal, with the goalkeeper’s view of Nawata being obscured by two of his own defenders.

Both teams then exchanged attacks in the second half, with Moriyama introducing top-scorer Rento Takaoka in the 61st minute to bolster the Japanese offensive line.

However, with Spain seeing much of the ball, the Young La Furia Roja practically dictated the second half, with the likes of substitute Igor Oyono and Paulo Iago threatening Goto’s goal.

Spain then finally found the breakthrough in the 73rd minute. After a Takaoka foray into the Spain defense was thwarted, the men in red quickly mounted a counterattack. Junyent sent a long ball forward towards Guiu, who managed to outpace both Kotaro Honda and Kaito Tsuchiya before overcoming the Japanese offside trap, soon finding himself one-on-one with Goto. Guiu, who broke into the Barcelona first team in recent times alongside the more established Lamine Yamal, easily slotted home past Goto to regain the lead for Spain.

Jimenez then pulled off some late heroics in between the Spanish sticks to ensure that Japan would be unable to find another equalizer, ensuring Spain’s spot in the quarterfinal much to the devastation of the Japanese players.

After the match, Japan head coach Yoshiro Moriyama lamented the lack of recovery time that his team had, having beaten Senegal 2-0 to seal their spot in the knockouts on Friday at the Si Jalak Harupat Stadium in Soreang, Bandung Regency, before making the trip down to Central Java for the match against Spain in Solo. By contrast, the Spanish’s last group stage game – a 2-2 draw with Uzbekistan – took place on Thursday at the Manahan Stadium, meaning that Spain did not had to move cities in between match.

“The boys’ World Cup adventure may be over but their footballing journey will now take them to greener pastures,” said Moriyama in his post-match comments, “There are no doubts that everyone had tried their best despite being exhausted. I think that everyone has done their best. At the same time, there might be regrets lingering from this match, like ‘have I done well in this match?’ But in the end, I hope that they could use these frustrations to grow themselves further into better players.”

An emotional Kosugi had this to say in his own post-match comments, “I think we’ve done well by reaching the World Cup knockouts. Had we defended well to avoid conceding early, this match might’ve ended in a draw. It was a great experience playing against some top-caliber talent, and I wanted to experience more of this, but the fact that I couldn’t stop them is a testament of my abilities so far. I want to challenge myself further in the U-20s, the Olympics, and the senior national team.”

With Japan’s elimination in the round of 16 as well as Indonesia’s and South Korea’s exits in the group stages and Iran’s defeat on penalties at the hands of Morocco in Tuesday’s round of 16 match, only Uzbekistan remain as Asia’s beacon of hope in earning silverware in this year’s U-17 World Cup. But the Central Asians won’t have it easy – they will play England for a spot in the last eight on Wednesday.