Spain went into their meeting with Japan harbouring few illusions as they looked to take control of Group B at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016. With several players having already faced Japan at the U-17 Women's World Cup in 2014, the European side knew the size of their task all too well.* *Japan got the better of Spain not just once but twice in Costa Rica two years ago, winning 2-0 during the group stage and later toppling them in the final to lift the trophy. As the two nations reconvened at Bava Park in Port Moresby, many of the protagonists from those matches lined up again to continue their rivalry.
Japan's starting XI against Spain included four title-winners from Costa Rica 2014 in Nana Ichise, Hina Sugita, Yui Hasegawa and Meika Nishida. They will have looked all too familiar to Spain's surviving contingent of Beatriz Beltran, Aitana Bonmati, Nahikari Garcia, Andrea Falcon, Patricia Guijarro and captain Sandra Hernandez.
The task for Japan was to triumph a third time, but their opponents had other ideas and ultimately ran out 1-0 victors. Posting their second consecutive win at Papua New Guinea 2016, Spain finally ended their losing sequence against the Japanese.
"The third time was a charm," Andrea Falcon told FIFA.com, fresh from collecting the Live Your Goals Player of the Match Award. "It was a team effort. We knew we'd have to fight right to the end. We overcame every obstacle and finally managed to beat Japan.
"We worked together and won thanks to every player, including those who were there in Costa Rica and those who helped us during qualification. It was a team effort and we won by playing as a team."
Falcon's take on the game was echoed by the opposition, with Japan midfielder Yui Hasegawa praising Spain's performance and suggesting their hunger proved the deciding factor. "The Spain team have developed more passion and motivation," she said. "They have also improved as individuals."
That improvement was never clearer than in Spain's diligence in dealing with a Japan attack that had scored six goals in their opening game. And it was that defensive effort that stood out to midfielder Patricia Guijarro, one of the players highlighted by Hasegawa as having progressed significantly since 2014.
"We've played Japan several times and we know them well," Guijarro explained to FIFA.com. "Today we were able to stop their attacks and get the ball on the flanks, which reduced the threat they posed us."
Guijarro was also keen to underline Spain's desire to reverse their recent results against the Japanese. "We were very motivated today. We lost to Japan two years ago in Costa Rica. We were fed up of losing to them and had to win this game to end that spiral.
"Even the players who hadn't faced Japan before were very motivated," she added. "We all worked together to win today."