Japan's Rikako Kobayashi (right) battles Vanessa Flores of Mexico during their FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup quarterfinal match at the Estadio Edgardo Baltodano Briceno on March 27, 2014 in Liberia, Costa Rica. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)
LIBERIA, Costa Rica – Japan scored twice in the first half to beat Mexico, 2-0, in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup on Thursday at the Estadio Edgardo Baltodano Briceño.
Yui Hasegawa put the tournament favorite ahead in the 11th minute, slipping the ball past goalkeeper Emily Alvarado for her second goal of the tournament.
Rikako Kobayashi started the sequence with a dangerous run toward the end line. The forward cut the ball back and sent a low cross into the penalty area where Asato Miyagawa’s attempt was initially blocked. A Mexican defender failed to clear and Hasegawa pounced.
Hasegawa was also instrumental in Japan’s second goal, when the referee ruled she was barged over by defender Gabriela Martinez in the box. She stepped to the spot, but her penalty attempt by saved by Alvarado.
The ball bounced back out to Hina Sugita, who neatly tucked in the rebound one minute before halftime to give the Little Nadeshiko a comfortable two-goal advantage at the break.
Though Japan had 71 percent of the first-half possession, Mexico -- a first-time quarterfinalist -- did have a chance to equalize in the 33rd minute.
Viridiana Salazar beat Japanese goalkeeper Mamiko Matsumoto to a long pass over the top and headed the ball toward the goal from 16-yards out. Rana Okuma, however, was able to recover and clear the bouncing ball from the line.
In the 41st minute, Hasegawa again troubled Alvarado. On this occasion, the goalkeeper parried the high shot from 22 yards over the crossbar for a Japanese corner kick.
Alvarado was again pressed into action in the 53rd minute. Hikaru Kitagawa received a cross from Kobayashi following a short Japanese corner. The defender hammered a shot on frame that Alvarado was able to push it over the bar for a second corner.
Japan, which outscored the opposition 15-0 during the group stage, was menacing on another corner kick in the 59th minute. Alvarado spilled while challenging the initial cross, but Rebeca Bernal cleared the ball from the line as the CONCACAF champion dodged another bullet.
The influential Hasegawa again proved threatening in the Mexican defensive third with a quarter-hour remaining, putting her in-stride shot off the near post from eight-yards out.
Alvarado made a point-blank save two minutes from full time and dived to her right to deny a stoppage-time free kick.
Japan did enough scoring in the first half, though, to book its spot in the semifinals, where Venezuela awaits.