Argentina overcame a resolute Japan side to be crowned World Champions in the Women’s Blind Football at the IBSA World Games in Birmingham.
The South American side found themselves 1-0 down at half-time after a blistering strike from Sora Kikushima had bulged the net and put Japan ahead.
Argentina were unphased by the deficit and, through a brace from Yohana Aguilar, pulled off a comeback in fashion having dominated the second-half of action.
A cagey match befitting two equally matched teams on the world stage ultimately saw the skill of Argentina triumph over the physicality of Japan.
A sizeable crowd gathered for the evening kick-off of the final of the Women’s Blind Football event as Japan and Argentina fought to be crowned World Champions.
National anthems were sung and flags were hung as the sun just began to dip from the sky at the University of Birmingham.
As the whistle was blown, it was Argentina who came out of the blocks fastest in the final match. Their attack led by the technical prowess of Gracia Sosa Barreneche, they had the better share of possession in the opening exchanges.
The South American team found it hard to establish any clear chances, however, as Japan did well to crowd the ball and stop the Argentine threat from developing.
It was Japan who had the first clear shot at goal of the match, just five minutes into the first-half. Haruka Wasugi found herself inside the box and muscled past two Argentine defenders but her shot ended up just wide of the near post.
As Japan ramped up their pressure in response to the lively start of Argentina, they found themselves with the better chances in the first-half.
Kikushima offered tenacious attacking threat, often using her strength to surge forward with the ball, always posing a danger with a potent right-foot.
Argentina had their best chance of the half when Aguilar received the ball on the edge of the box and, as Mako Takeuchi missed an opportunity to clear, nearly found herself through on goal. Instead, the referee blew for a foul and the attack was halted.
Moments later Japan had called a time out in an attempt to brainstorm a breakthrough in a match bereft of chances where both teams had managed to cancel each other out.
The timeout certainly worked. As Sosa Barreneche looked to dribble the ball out from defence on the restart of play it was Kikushima who pressed to win the ball back in a dangerous position.
Having evaded Sosa Barreneche, Japan’s number 10 was able to make space for herself just inside the box before rifling the ball into the roof of the net with that powerful right foot.
Japan had a deserved advantage in the final after a tremendous response to the urgency of Argentina. It was a rocket of goal befitting of the occasion as Kikushima became the first scorer in the IBSA Women’s Blind Football final.
Argentina very nearly produced a response on the stroke of half-time as, once more, Sosa Barreneche wove her way through a crowd of blue shirts to work her way towards the left post. Despite the work to get to the position, she was unable to get a strong shot off and Japan managed to preserve their lead.
The second-half kicked off much as the same as the first, a cagey affair in which two evenly match teams struggled to get the better of the other.
Impressive skill from Aguilar promised more than it delivered. She cut back and forth in the right corner to take the ball away from the Japanese defenders, but no one was in support to bolster the threat.
It was characteristic of the Argentina team that moments of individual brilliance would produce their chances.
Just moments later Sosa Barreneche was back, surging forward to torment the Japanese defence, but their fourth defender proved an obstacle too many.
As Japan maintained their goal advantage through a particularly physical style of defending, it was Argentina who dominated possession and chances as the second-half progressed.
Japan were happy to sit back on their lead whilst the white and blue stripes of Argentina desperately chased an equaliser.
Argentina’s dominance finally paid off eight minutes into the half when Aguilar burst free from a melee of dark blue shirts. She worked herself in a central position in front of goal and finished low into the bottom left corner.
With just seven minutes of the final remaining, Argentina were level and the game, once more, anybody’s to win.
It was Aguilar, again, for Argentina that threatened to produce a winner. With just three minutes left on the clock she twisted through the middle and was only stopped just metres away from the goal line.
As the final whistle approached and darkness fell over the Birmingham pitches, the game began to open up with more clear-cut chances appearing at both ends.
A rule that limits each team to concede a certain number of direct free-kicks before the following fouls are upgraded to penalties, saw Japan fall foul of their physical approach with just two minutes on the clock.
The referee pointed to the spot after another rough challenge from the Japan defence, and Argentina had their opportunity to complete the comeback.
Who else but goal scorer Aguilar to step up for her nation? It looked as though she had squandered the chance as she blasted the ball against the right-hand post. The trailing leg of the Japan keeper deflected the rebound back into the net, however, for Argentina to take the lead for the first time.
It was fortunate in its nature, but it was a goal thoroughly deserved for their efforts upfront.
The goal proved the difference for the Argentina in the final and the scenes at full-time demonstrated exactly what the victory meant for the South Americans. Jubilant hugs and cries of triumph emerged from a huddle of blue and white shirts.
Argentina crowned champions of the Women’s Blind Football World Championships as Aguilar proved the hero with two strikes that write her nations name into the history books.