The lowdown on Jordan 2016’s final four

The four remaining teams in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 are just one game away from the final. With time of the essence and concentration levels rising, the four sides will be busy analysing their semi-final opponents and drawing up tactics and plans for the players to execute when the whistle sounds.

The quartet of title hopefuls have shown what makes them tick in their three group matches and their quarter-final ties, giving the chance to pore over the stats and come up with some key pointers ahead of Monday’s two semi-finals.

Offensive and defensive solidity The draw for Jordan 2016 raised widespread expectations of a repeat of the Costa Rica 2014 final between Japan and Spain. Yet, as it has turned out, the two sides will be meeting one round earlier. It promises to be quite an occasion nonetheless, one that can perhaps be billed as a clash between Japan’s formidable midfield and attack and Spain’s well-organised defence.

The Japanese boast the most prolific forward line in the competition, having scored 16 goals in their four matches. That is a statistic which may well be causing Spain coach Maria Is some sleepless nights, especially with it being so hard to identify where the danger might come from. No fewer than seven players have so far got on the scoresheet for Japan, with Riko Ueki leading the way with four goals and three Live Your Goals Player of the Match awards. Yet while Ueki lends a cutting edge to the attack, she is far from the Little Nadeshiko’s only threat.

Following the last-eight defeat of England, Japan coach Naoki Kusunose assessed his players’ performances to date: “We play a Japanese-style game. The girls have skill and speed and play for each other.” Ueki, who scored twice against the English, echoed that view: “I found myself through on the keeper and had a chance to complete a hat-trick, but I didn’t think about it and chose instead to pass to a team-mate. We all work together to improve as a team.”

Thanks to their commitment to a game based on relentless attack, high-energy pressing and possession of the ball, the Japanese have conceded just two goals at Jordan 2016, both of which came in their third group match against USA. Goalkeeper Momoko Tanaka and her defensive colleagues are well aware, however, that they will need to be fully focused against La Rojita, who will pose their stiffest test yet.

Spain’s chief hallmark is a defence that is not short on physical strength or tactical discipline and is well marshalled by goalkeeper Noelia Ramos, who had an outstanding game against Germany in the quarter-finals. Voicing her praise for her custodian, Is told “Noelia has been superb, and she’s shown why she’s our first-choice keeper here.”

Yet, the Spanish will not be playing a waiting game against the Japanese, with Is planning to surprise the Asian side with an enterprising approach founded on an attack that has scored 11 goals to date and had 98 goal attempts, 34 of them on target. While that record compares favourably with Japan’s, La Rojita will need Lorena Navarro to rediscover the form that brought her five goals in their first match. The little No9 has struggled since, with all of Spain's subsequent strikes having come from her team-mates.

Pace meets skill Monday’s other semi-final, between Korea DPR and Venezuela, could be described as pitting  speed against technique. The North Koreans have made the most of their considerable pace to get forward in numbers and cut their way through opposing defences, which explains why they have the fifth-best attack in the competition, with 11 goals and 76 goal attempts, 30 of them between the posts.

Speaking to after scoring one goal and setting up two to win the Player of the Match award in her side’s first group game, against England, the pacey Sung Hyang-Sim said: “I want to help my team. You have to give the ball to the player who’s in the best position to score, because the important thing is to win.” Emphasising Korea DPR’s team ethic, Ri Hae-Yon, who has been their star performer with four goals and an assist, said: “If I had the choice, I’d prefer not to score and for us to win the trophy. That’s what we’re all aiming for.”

For their part, Venezuela are banking on their considerable skills to secure a historic title. The winner of the adidas Golden Boot at Costa Rica 2014, Deyna Castellanos was the focus of much attention in the countdown to Jordan 2016. Though she was off form as her side opened up with a defeat to Germany, the forward showed exactly what she was capable of against Cameroon, scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory, the second of them a stunning last-gasp winner from the centre circle. Castellanos followed up with a spectacular strike against Canada and a superbly taken brace against Mexico. With five goals to her name, she is the joint-leading scorer at Jordan 2016 and has struck more goals than anyone in the history of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

After helping Venezuela see off the Mexicans in the quarter-finals, the disarmingly modest striker said: “No, I don’t have a golden foot. It’s all down to a lot of work on the pitch with my team-mates. I dedicate my goals to everyone who’s supported me, to our families and to the people of Venezuela. We want to keep on going.”

Whatever happens, Monday’s semi-finals are sure to be absorbing encounters and promise plenty in the way of excitement and, who knows, perhaps a historic achievement or two.