The 2019 Women’s World Cup, Group D: The Setting Sun?

Argentina 0-0 Japan

On the 20th September 2003 in Columbus, Argentina finally made their debut in the Women’s World Cup against Japan. They lost by six goals to nil. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to say that they’ve come a long way since then. It’s been a bumpy ride, though. This is Argentina’s first trip to a Women’s World Cup finals since 2007, and their two appearances in the finals prior to this year saw them concede thirty-six goals in six matches, picking up no points and scoring just twice. Amongst these matches, as some of you may well remember, was a particularly ignominious eleven-nil loss to Germany in 2007.

Getting to the World Cup finals in the first place, then, might be considered an achievement in itself for Argentina. Taking a point from Japan in their opening match, however, it something else altogether. Their opponents are one of the more storied international teams in the last ten years of the women’s game. Prior to the 2011 Word Cup in Germany, they’d qualified for the finals of each of the five previous tournaments but had only got past the group stage once, making the quarter-finals in 1995.

In Germany in 2011, however, they stunned the host nation by beating them in the quarter-finals before beating Sweden in the semi-finals and then the United States of America on penalty kicks in the final to lift the trophy. The following year in London, they reached the finals of the Olympic women’s tournament before losing to to the USA. In Canada four years ago, they reached the World Cup final again, beating the Netherlands, Australia and England before getting trounced by the USA in the final. And, whilst they might have failed to even qualify for the last Olympic Games, they have also won the last two successive AFC Women’s Asian Cups. Japan, in other words, are an accomplished team.

2019, however, has not been kind to the seventh-ranked team in the world. Despite winning six straight matches throughout the second half of last year, Japan have won just once so far in 2019, a 3-1 win against the United States of America. A hint of their ability before a period of torpor from which they haven’t yet recovered. Japan were expected to push England close to win the group, but they’ll have to play better than they did in this match in order to do so now. Japan are tidy and compact, a joy to watch, but in this match they were lethargic and blunt. They couldn’t manage a shot on target until five minutes into the second half, and can have few complaints at a match from which they should, by most metrics, have taken all three points.

For Argentina, this is a magnificent result, which puts their final match against Scotland in a whole new light. Winning this match, and it may well be winnable, would put them on four points regardless of any other considerations and four points may well be enough to edge them through to the round of sixteen. If there continue to be few draws elsewhere, and it’s the only one so far, it guarantees them a place. This was a very valuable point indeed, and they deserved it. They defended stubbornly and even broke into attack a couple of times. Indeed, the worst thing you could say about Argentina yesterday afternoon would be to comment on the state of their shirts, the stripes upon which are almost invisible, so pale is the shade of blue used. This teams deserves better.

Japan, meanwhile, are in a sticky situation. They now need a result from their next match Scotland, because their final match against an England team which beat them 3-0 at the SheBelieves Cup in March, and they won’t be wanting to go into a match against a team so highly-rated needing a win to stay in the competition. Should they lose to Scotland, and that hardly seems implausible, considering the fight that Scotland put up against England and Japan’s inertia against Argentina, we could be on for the biggest surprise of the tournament. Japan wouldn’t be considered as one of the teams most likely to win this year’s Women’s World Cup, but they certainly wouldn’t be considered one at risk of going out in the first round, either. The Scotland match is now one of the most fascinating of the second round of group matches.