What on paper looked a sure thing for Japan turned out to be a historical match for Argentina.
A sunlit Parc des Princes hosted the first group match for Japan, the world champions of 2011 and Argentina who have qualified for the second time only after 2007. Given the problems these women are facing and fighting against their presence deserved to be applauded. The crowd of 25000 was largely in favour of the South Americans though there was little to cheer about in terms of goals or chances created.
The game started as is routine at big tournaments: slow. Whenever one of the players used their technical ability the crowd cheered and applauded loudly.
Both sides settled into the match easy but it was Japan who recorded the first chance after seven minutes with a shot that went wide. Only three minutes later and it was again Japan who this time managed to get a ball headed towards goal but the save was an easy one for the Argentinian keeper, Vanina Correa. This was almost it for the first fifteen minutes of the game. Japan were clearly the better of the two but Argentina showed grit and determination to negate Japan time and again.
After twenty minutes the players used a short injury break to refresh themselves. After that it was again Japan attacking, this time with a long ball but that one was easily picked up by the keeper. It was symptomatic for the game : whatever Japan threw at the Argentinians they could not get their way through. In return Argentina evidently lacked ideas when going forward. After 25 minutes Japan had a corner but the ball came to Argentina and they went on the counter. Well, it was a one woman surge up the field, their captain finding herself alone near the half way line as the others just did not get out of defence.
Another detail of the World Cup is La Ola. After 30 minutes and the match having almost come to a standstill, the crowd organised some pleasure and celebrated itself. Indeed there was not much to report as the game petered out the closer half-time approached. There were two minutes added before the crowd rose for refreshments. These were not the best idea as the weather was chilly and the ground draughty which required tea and blankets rather than beer.
The second half was a copy of the first. Japan with a lot of possession, Argentina gritting their teeth to deny their opponents and stay in the game. However their cluelessness when going forward was palpable particularly in the first moments of the second half. A player with the ba went forward only to find her alone with no support, her team mates either behind her or in a position too difficult to play a pass to. However, they never gave up and towards the end their effort almost paid off as Japan let their guards down and conceded. Unimaginable what would have happened had this happened. It did not yet the Argentinian effort was a wonderful one. It took them until the 73. minute to get their first shot on target, it came during a phase during which Argentina were more daring and Japan being absolutely passive.
Argentina had a free kick from the right and unfortunately could not use it to their advantage. On the other end, Japan had a shot that went into the side netting. There were four minutes of added time before the historical achievement of Argentina has been confirmed : it was their first point at a world cup and the joy and celebrations by players and staff was understandable after the final whistle. They celebrated as though they had won the tournament not just a match. The woman of the match award went to Argentina’s No. 10 and captain, their captain courageous, Estefania Banini.
To round up this report there is just a short note to highlight the issues the Argentinians face these days. To begin with, the team was filed as ‘inactive’ by Fifa between 2015 and 2017 when they were invited to play Uruguay in August 2017. For each training session the players have received $8.50 which hardly covered the costs of transport. In April this year the Argentinian football association agreed to pay each womens team $2700 a month to sustain eight players with a professional contract. This sum equates $337 per month for each of these chosen eight players. Imagine Messi or Mbappé receiving this little. For the players this means significant progress has been made.
The next matches for Argentina will not be much easier with England next and their final group game against Scotland during the next ten days. Japan have to analyse their short comings in this match if they want to progress to the knock-out stages.