Japan failed to break down a determined and well-organised Argentine defence in Paris on Monday in the first goalless draw of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Japan, finalists in 2015 and winners in 2011, enjoyed almost two thirds of possession in front of a crowd of 25,000, but only forced two saves from goalkeeper Vanina Correa.
Argentina’s women, who have never won a match at the World Cup, managed three tame late strikes, none of which tested Ayaka Yamashita.
The result, which earned Argentina’s women their very first point in a World Cup, leaves both teams on one point in Group D, behind England who beat Scotland on Sunday.
When the whistle blew at Paris Saint-Germain’s Parc des Princes stadium Argentina’s substitutes jumped off the bench to join the players on the pitch at finally getting a point on the World Cup board at the seventh attempt.
“This point is really important for us. I think we’re able to reflect upon what Argentina is and what it means as a team,” said Estefania Banini, Argentina’s captain who was voted player of the match. “We weren’t good enough to break down Argentina’s defence today,” said Asako Takakura, the Japan coach.
Argentina came out to defend with a back four pressing high up the field, the midfield quartet forming a screen a few yards in front and attacker Banini dropping back to fill the gaps.
“Basically we couldn’t play any other way against this team,” said Carlos Borrello, the Argentina manager. “We had to keep ourselves back and focused, and be very, very organised with that sort of attitude to come out with a counter-attack. It was satisfying to gain a point in this World Cup.”
Japan managed only two shots in the first half, neither close to the goal. But Argentina did not attempt any.
When Japanese goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita came out to collect a high and hopeful cross after 40 minutes, the crowd roared.
Banini, short, left-footed and wearing number 10, has inevitably been dubbed the female Lionel Messi, but in build and manner she more closely resembles another left-footed Argentine 10, Diego Maradona.
She was tenacious both with and without the ball and both first-half yellow cards were for rough Japanese challenges on the Argentine captain.
Japan played with more urgency in the second half, pushing Argentina back.
“We don’t set out to be defensive against any team,” said Takakura. “Of course we have to keep a very solid defence but we don’t want to play defensive football. It wasn’t in our mindset at all. But the players were cautious today. In the second half, they realised they had to be more offensive – so their tempo was faster and they attempted more shots at goal.”
After 50 minutes, Kumi Yokoyama’s drive from 35 metres drew a sprawling save from Vanina Correa. The ball ran to Yuki Sugasawa who blasted over from close range.
Then a clever Japanese move gave Yui Hasegawa a shooting chance near the penalty spot but she sliced wide.
As Japan pressed, Argentina had more chances to counter attack. Banini tormented the Japanese defenders with jinking runs, but could not create a clear chance. Argentina were credited with five goal attempts, all in the last 20 minutes, but none were dangerous.
Since the group stage only eliminates eight of the 24 teams, the draw leaves Japan and Argentina needing one victory in their next two games. Both will need to find a way to score.
“We’ve still got two teams to face and they’re going to be really competitive,” said Banini. “We have to play really intelligent, compact football and become a really compact team and I think that we can progress. We believe that we can continue fighting and we can get more points and not go home with just one.”
Later Monday Canada face Cameroon in Group E.