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Argentina holds off Japan for first World Cup point

Argentina's Aldana Cometti, left, and Argentina's Estefania Banini react at the end Women's World Cup Group D soccer match between Argentina and Japan at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Monday, June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS – The Japan women’s national team shot high, wide, and into blocks against Argentina on Monday evening at the Parc des Princes, as both sides settled for a 0-0 draw in their opening match of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

While Japan lacked precision in the attacking third, Argentina also defended effectively – often dropping all 10 of its outfield players behind the ball – and secured its first point in a Women’s World Cup.

“We weren’t going to play any other way…We had to keep ourselves back and stay focused,” Argentina coach Carlos Borello said during the post-game press conference. “In essence, I am very satisfied to obtain a point, but this is the very start of the journey for Argentina.”

The result left Group D wide open. England defeated Scotland 2-1 on Sunday, meaning Japan and Argentina are close behind in second and third place with a point apiece.

Japan plays Scotland in its second game, in Rennes on June 14, while Argentina plays England the same day in Le Havre.

“We wanted the three points, but we couldn’t break down their defense today,” Japan coach Asako Takakura said. “Some may say we were complacent today, but we weren’t. You can look at the FIFA world rankings and say Argentina is ranked low, but this is the World Cup and the rankings don’t matter. It’s not about that.”

On paper, though, Japan was the clear favorite. The reigning runners-up got a warm reception here in south-western Paris as many in the crowd of 25,055 returned cheers of “Argentina!” with “Japon! Japon!”  

Argentina’s game plan involved frustrating Japan in the heart of midfield and sucking Yui Hasegawa out of her playmaking role in the center of the pitch and toward the flanks. The Argentines, who prepared for this tournament by playing four friendlies against American college teams last month, didn’t get forward much. When they did, Japan’s central defensive combination of Saki Kumagai and Moeka Minami kept things under control.

On the other side of the ball, Japan held most of the possession and out-shot its opponent 8-5.

The first half featured just two shots, both of which came from Japan, but no clear goal scoring opportunities. By the half-hour mark, fans started doing the wave.

Japan came out of halftime with more energy and ran a five-second sprinting drill with four training cones at midfield before the match kicked-off for the second half. Getting the running start nearly paid off, as Japan almost scored five minutes into the action when Kumi Yokoyama, the team’s leading scorer in qualification, blasted over the crossbar from a tight angle after Argentina goalkeeper Vanina Correa bobbled Hasegawa’s shot from outside the box.

Six minutes later, Hasegawa flashed a bid wide of the far post off a driven service from the right flank by Risa Shimizu. Just before the final whistle, Hasegawa one-timed a shot at net following a scramble inside the box, but Correa dropped low to make the stop.

That save clinched the point and the clean sheet for Argentina, which insists it isn’t finished here in France after stunning Japan, a former world champion and the reigning runner-up.

“This point for us is really important because we were able to reflect what Argentina is and who Argentina is,” said team captain Estefania Banini after the game. “We are competitive, but we need to say compact in this tournament and continue fighting to get more points.

“I think we can do this, and I think we will make up for the gap between us and some of the other teams with our attitude.”

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