Spain defeated Japan, 3-1 to open the 2020 SheBelieves Cup, presented by Visa, in a game that featured an early goal from Alexia Putellas, a spectacular strike on the cusp of halftime from Mana Iwabuchi and two goals from halftime substitute Lucía Garcia.
The opening goal came just eight minutes into the match on quick transition that got midfielder Marta Cardona free down the right side. She pushed through a tackle from a Japanese defender and then cut a pass back to captain Jennifer Hermoso inside the penalty box. Hermoso, who scored against the USA in the Round of 16 at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, then hit a ball that was bundled into the goal by the charging Alexia Putellas, who edged in front of her defender to tap in from inside the six-yard box.
Japan had a chance to equalize in the 14th minute as Yuika Sugasawa got behind the defense, but her bending shot was well-saved by diving Spain goalkeeper Lola Gallardo.
Spain had the better of the chances before the break. In the 33rd minute, Patri Guijarro smacked a shot from 25 yards out straight away that was palmed away by Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita with a low dive. Two minutes later, Putellas struck a shot from the top of the box that flew just inches outside the left post.
Spain was likely ruing those misses when Japan tied the game in the 44th minute on a Herculean effort from Iwabuchi, who was the smallest player on the field. Risa Shimizu crossed from deep on the right wing and Iwabuchi ran under the falling ball, sliding at the top of the box to hit an unusual-yet-spectacular full volley that looped over Gallardo and into the net from 18 yards out.
The teams went into halftime tied but Spain took the lead soon after the break. After miss-hitting her shot on a chance moments earlier, halftime substitute Lucía Garcia won the ball deep in the Japanese defensive third by picking off a square pass. She then raced in on goal on the right side of the penalty area, deftly touched the ball around Yamashita, ran around the other side of her, then slid to knock the ball into the open net from just a few yards away, albeit from a steep angle. A sliding Japanese defender just missed clearing the ball off the goal line.
Before getting the game-winner and the insurance goal, Garcia almost added to the lead twice, first in the 67th as she brought down a long ball and moved past one defender, then lifted the ball over another and raced into on goal. She took an excellent touch forward with her head on the bouncing ball and made it deep into the penalty area, but her left-footed shot from was well-saved by Yamashita. In the 75th minute, she ran onto a looping pass behind the defense and tried to lift the ball over Yamashita, but the Japanese goalkeeper made another good save.
Her pressure paid off again with the insurance goal in the 78th minute when she again won the ball in the back from Japan, this time out-muscling veteran defender Saki Kumagai. She again pushed the ball around one side of Yamashita, and again ran around the other side of her, before slotting home into the open net from 11 yards out to cap her brace of spectacular dribbles and scores.
The match was the opening game of the doubleheader with the second match featuring the United States vs. England.
The SheBelieves Cup continues Sunday, March 8 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., as Japan takes on England (2:15 p.m. ET on ESPN3) followed by the USA vs. Spain (5 p.m. ET on ESPN and TUDN). The final games take place on Wednesday, March 11 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas with England facing Spain (4:15 p.m. CT on ESPN3) followed by the USA vs. Japan (7 p.m. CT on ESPNews and TUDN Extra 1).