KEIR RADNEDGE in BAKU: Japan underscored their emergent status as favourites to win the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup when they wrapped up a devastating first round by outclassing Mexico 9-0.

That secured top spot in Group C for Japan with a magnificent record of 17 goals for and none against. Brazil followed them through into the quarter-finals after beating New Zealand 4-3 in the other, simultaneous, game. Japan will play Ghana in the quarter-finals while Brazil will face Germany.

Japanese captain Yui Narumiya produced the most outstanding of a clutch of outstanding individual performances against hapless Mexico.

The quick-thinking, quick-moving No9 scored only one goal herself, from an 18th-minute penalty after being bumped off her feet, but had a hand in many of the others which fells to Risa Shimizu, Akari Shiraki (two), Ayaka Inque (two), Hina Sugita, Yuka Momiki and Mizuki Nakamura.

Head start

Later Christopher Cuellar, Mexico’s head coach, said he saw no reason why Japan should not go, at least, to the final if not win the Cup. He pinpointed a general intensity of preparation and overall strategy which offered a head start to all the Asian teams at these finals.

Cueller said: “The Asian teams have all done exceptionally well here because of the work they are doing with their younger players. I understand, with these players from Japan, some live together and train together all year long and a lot of countries don’t have this.

“Our [Mexican] girls will be going back to their clubs and schools and soccer is a recreation for them; they aren’t as competitive practised as the Asians are.”

Praising Japan in particular, he added: “Their girls already have all their formation skills – and tactically as well they are very good – so they have a very strong chance of going to the final and perhaps winning it all. The Asian teams in this tournament are definitely the favourites.”

Hiroski Yoshida, Japan’s coach, conceded after some prompting that his team were tournament favourites. He hailed the strength in depth of his squad – “all our players have equally good skills and good technique” – and praised both teams for the manner in which they played “a match against such hot weather.”

Germany topped Group D after defeating Uruguay 5-2 while Ghana sprang a minor surprise in beating China to claim runners-up spot.

Quarter-finals (all in Baku 8KM)

Oct 4: N Korea v Canada (1700), Nigeria v France (2000)

Oct 5: *Germany v Brazil (1700), Japan v Ghana (2000)

*The Germany v Brazil tie was switched to Baku 8KM from Lankaran because of concerns over the state of the pitch there.

= = = =