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Japan fight back to hold Spain

Le Tonquet: A late goal from Yuika Sugasawa gave Japan a share of the spoils, as the Asian champions completed their FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 preparations with a 1-1 draw against Spain on Sunday.

The Urawa Red Diamonds striker hit the back of the net with five minutes remaining, levelling the tie after Japan trailed for more than an hour following Jennifer Hermoso’s first half penalty kick.

With their France 2019 build-up now complete, Asako Takakura’s side will turn their gaze to their opening assignment in the tournament proper, against Argentina in Paris on June 10.

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In perfect conditions on the Northern tip of France, the Nadeshiko fell behind when Nana Ichise was punished for ever-so-slightly handling a bouncing ball in the Japanese penalty area, with Atlético Madrid’s Hermoso making no mistake with the subsequent spot kick.

Japan struggled to make regular inroads at the other end of the pitch, with Emi Nakajima coming closest to finding a quick reply, although her left-footed effort only succeeded in striking the side netting after an encouraging move down the right-hand side.

Spain – ranked 13th in the world, six places behind Japan – took their lead to half-time, and the two sides largely cancelled each other out after it, with solid defensive organisation keeping the clear-cut chances at both ends to a minimum.

One of Japan’s brightest openings fell to Sugasawa, but her decision to shoot, rather than look for one of two teammates in promising positions to her left, resulted in an effort which flew well off target.

But Sugasawa atoned for that misstep; lunging to get on the end of Hina Sugita’s low, driven cross to complete an excellent Japanese move with five minutes remaining to level the tie.

Spain embarked on one final search for a late winner in the game’s dying moments, but a double save from impressive Japanese goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita ensured her side avoided defeat in their final pre-tournament hit out.

Photos: AFP

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