COLUMBUS, Ohio -- From the opening whistle it was clear which team had previous World Cup experience and who were the newcomers as Japan overwhelmed Argentina 6-0 in the second game of a doubleheader at Crew Stadium on Saturday night.
"We recently played a friendly in Mexico where we were able to get a draw which gave us some confidence before the start of this tournament," said Japanese midfielder Mio Otani, who scored thee goals in the win. "I always have honey before a match and it certainly worked today."
Japan quickly put Argentina under pressure, using its skill and quickness to attack the flanks of the Argentina defense. In the ninth minute, Argentine goalkeeper, Romina Ferro thwarted a rare attack up the middle, one of many saves she would have on the evening,
That attack was only a precursor of things to come. A scant four minutes later the Japanese put their mark on the scoreboard, when World Cup veteran Homare Sawa one-timed a cross and neatly placed the ball into the net.
While the Japanese continued to dominate the first half, it took them 25 minutes to double their lead, but in the 38th minute Japan did just that on a goal by Sawa.
This time the cross came from the opposite side and the volley gave Ferro little chance to be a hero. One minute later, the game was dramatically changed by Finnish referee Katriina Elovirta's judgment, when a clumsy tackle by Natalia Gatti was determined to be worthy of a red card. With Argentina playing a player down, there was little doubt among those in attendance that Japan would be the victor.
The first half domination was evident in the statistics. Japan out-shot Argentina 14-2.
While lacking in skill, Argentina continued to fight valiantly, but being a player down made the task at hand particularly daunting, if not impossible. Japan continued to explore the flanks with positive runs and crosses leading to dangerous chances, but despite its dominance did not add to the lead until the 64th minute when Emi Yamamoto found the net.
Yamamoto would later be named Player of the Match, but the goal was only a small piece of her contribution. Yamamoto continued to set up her teammates, in particular Mio Otani, with dangerous crosses.
"I don't think it was one of my better performances and I did not think that I would get the award," said a modest Yamamoto after the game. "But of course I am extremely happy. We tried to follow the tactics laid down by our coach and I think we did really well. I don't think we will change our game plan for the matches to come but instead try to focus on playing our own game."
In the 72nd minute, Otani scored the first of her three goals when she turned a Yamamoto cross into the goal with a dramatic volley.
Otani took advantage of the weary Argentine defense to score two more goals in the final 15 minutes, using her head on both occasions. The beleaguered Argentine defense stopped several other promising opportunities, but in the end the team was left with a 6-0 defeat in its first World Cup match.
"It was tough to go up against Japan in the first match," said Argentina coach José Carlos Borello. "We were never relaxed on the pitch and therefore never managed to play the way that we are actually capable of.
"However, having said that I will say that Japan was very compact and fast and therefore deserved the win."
Japan's lopsided victory left the fans wondering about Wednesday's match with Germany. The intriguing matchup will provide more definitive answers about the Japanese impact on this year's tournament.
"We had prepared well for this match and our game execution was great," noted Japan coach Uedi Eiji. "However, both Germany and Canada are different teams to play against and I am doubtful that we will be able to play the same way against them. There will be big challenges in the matches to come."
Japan will likely have one eye on its match with Canada next weekend as in all likelihood that will be when the second spot in Group C will be determined.