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The story of Japan vs Brazil: One-nil matches can be fun

The first game of the SheBelieves Cup delivered with plenty of goal-mouth action

2023 SheBelieves Cup - Japan v Brazil Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

If you looked at the box score of the first match of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup and saw a 72nd minute Debinha goal being the difference between Brazil and Japan on Thursday afternoon, you may have thought this was a dull game that featured very little attacking and a lot of stout defending.

That wasn’t the case at all.

Both Brazil and Japan threatened to score every time they moved forward, with Japan pulling off their amazing sweeping, low passes to great effect while Brazil combined graceful technique with plenty of speed. This produced a game where both backlines and goalkeepers had to be alert from the very first minute and it came down to one moment of magic late in the second half to separate the two sides.

2023 SheBelieves Cup - Japan v Brazil Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Japan showed up in the Orlando sunshine with a 3-4-3 formation while Brazil rolled out a 4-4-2 that saw their strikers and wingers interchange at will. Anyone who watched the game spent the entire first half almost breathless as both teams were unafraid to spring forward quickly with numbers, despite the risk of being caught out in transition. Both teams did get caught out on more than one occasion but that didn’t stop them from still attempting to entertain anyone viewing this match, in the stadium or in front of a screen.

Japan’s Risa Shimizu and Hina Sugita bombed forward at will while Brazil’s Geyse and Adriana flowed forward with breathtaking pace. It was like watching a Formula 1 race but with either blue vehicles or white vehicles going in different directions at any given moment. Yui Hasegawa and Fuka Nagano were brilliant in midfield for Japan, spraying the ball out wide to their marauding wingbacks; while Debinha and Kerolin were the perfect foil for the two up top for Brazil.

The difference in goals came with the introduction of the one player in Brazil’s history who’s been the difference maker throughout her storied career: Marta.

The Orlando Pride forward had been out for almost a year through injury and her minutes in the second half after coming on were her first minutes of action since she tore her ACL last April. It was only fitting that not only did she appear for the first time in 8 months at her home stadium but that she also proved to have that individual spark that helped Brazil find the winning goal. She picked up the ball out wide, drove to the byline then played a perfect pass for Debinha to run on to and score from.

That’s what Brazil had been missing throughout. An incisiveness that only the very best can provide in critical moments. Had Japan had someone of similar quality come on for them, they probably would’ve scored the two chances they had immediately after Debinha had scored. They don’t and instead fluffed their lines when a cooler head was needed, succumbing them to a defeat in their first game of the SheBelieves Cup.

That isn’t the (full) story though.

2023 SheBelieves Cup - Japan v Brazil Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The story of this game was how exhilarating this sport can be especially when two teams decide to go ‘hammer and tongs’ for the full 90 minutes. Lorena and Momoko Tanaka were forced into saves time and time again as their teammates’ propensity to attack with abandon left them exposed more times than either would like but for the neutral, that’s exactly what we expected from this match and we enjoyed every second of it. Both Brazil and Japan decided that it was all “no defense, just vibes” in their opening match and we are all eternally grateful for it.

Brazil has Canada next while Japan has the hosts, the USWNT, on their radar. Those match ups will have slightly different expectations on them and probably more goals but for 90 plus minutes in Orlando, a 1-0 game proved to be the best match of the day.