Matsubara, Japan’sresourceful all-rounder

It was yet another Japan masterclass on Thursday,

as the Young Nadeshiko stormed into the last four

at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New

Guinea 2016 with a stylish 3-1 win over Brazil.

Japan’s usual attacking outlets – Yui Hasegawa,

Yuka Momiki and Hina Sugita – were prominent as

always, but this time it was another name to the

fore; Shiho Matsubara.

Coming on at half-time, Matsubara netted after just

five minutes and added a second midway through

the second half. Her second goal was taken with

the poise of a supremely confident player.

Controlling an awkward bouncing cross at the back

post, Matsubara brought it down, shimmied past a

defender and side-footed the ball inside the

furthest post.

Japan have already scored 14 goals in just four

outings thus far at Papua New Guinea 2016. In

truth, they could have easily have scored more

than three against Brazil at Port Moresby’s

National Football Stadium on Thursday evening.

“The coach told us to chase more goals at half-

time and put the game away,” Matsubara told

FIFA.com . “We stepped up and had a good second

half. I did the job for the team that I could, and

tried to contribute where I could and the task I was

set. Every small contribution greatly helps.”

Goalscoring all-rounder

Nine games played, four goals scored. That is the

record at FIFA tournaments for Matsubara. Not a

bad goalscoring return for a defender. But while

Matsubara is ostensibly lining up in the Japan

squad as a defender, coach Asako Takakura has

long used the 19-year-old as a utility player. It

was exactly the same scenario in Costa Rica two

years ago when Takakura led her Little Nadeshiko

side, Matsubara included, to the FIFA U-17

Women’s World Cup title. Matsubara has even

been known to play in the forward line for her

Nadeshiko League side Cerezo Osaka.

“It was a good feeling then,” said Matsubara,

reflecting on what was a deserved win for Japan at

Costa Rica 2014. “But this is a different category

where the stakes are much higher. The

accumulated pressure and the different factors are

much higher now.”

Japan boast a remarkable record at U-17 level –

they fell just short of a second title in Jordan only

last month – but success has been harder to

come by at U-20 level. Only once prior to Papua

New Guinea 2016 have Japan reached the semi-

finals, and that was on home soil four years ago.

Can they make history this time?

“We didn’t qualify last time and so we were

mindful of first improving on that first of all,”

Matsubara said. “All teams want to be the best in

the world, and we are now well placed to achieve

that.

“It is a do or die time, and of course, once we lose

we go back home, and that is not our purpose or

goal when we arrived yet. We are working on the

notion that we will keep winning and I feel

confident and have a good feeling about this

tournament.”​

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