On a day of defence against attack, Canada found the goal they needed to beat Cameroon but Argentina frustrated Japan and collected a first-ever Women’s World Cup point.
In Paris, Argentina restricted Japan, finalists in the last two World Cups, to three dangerous chances without creating a clear scoring opportunity of their own as the game ended in the first goalless draw of the competition and only the seventh in the competition’s history.
The result leaves both teams on one point in Group D, behind England who beat Scotland on Sunday.
When the whistle blew at Paris Saint-Germain’s Parc des Princes stadium Argentina’s substitutes jumped off the bench to join the players on the pitch at finally getting a World Cup point at the seventh attempt.
“This point is really important for us. I think we’re able to reflect upon what Argentina is and what it means as a team,” said Estefania Banini, Argentina’s captain, who was voted player of the match.
“We weren’t good enough to break down Argentina’s defence today,” said Asako Takakura, the Japan coach.
Argentina came out to defend in depth and the approach worked.
“Basically we couldn’t play any other way against this team,” said Carlos Borrello, the Argentina manager.
“It was satisfying to gain a point in this World Cup.”
Banini, short, left-footed and wearing number 10, has inevitably been dubbed the female Lionel Messi, but in build and manner she more closely resembles another left-footed Argentine 10, Diego Maradona.
She was tenacious both with and without the ball and both first-half yellow cards were for rough Japanese challenges on the Argentine captain.
Japan played with more urgency in the second half, pushing Argentina back.
“We don’t set out to be defensive against any team,” said Takakura. “Of course we have to keep a very solid defence but we don’t want to play defensive football. It wasn’t in our mindset at all. But the players were cautious today.
“In the second half, they realised they had to be more offensive – so their tempo was faster and they attempted more shots at goal.”
After 50 minutes, Kumi Yokoyama’s drive from 35 metres drew a sprawling save from Vanina Correa. The ball ran to Yuki Sugasawa who blasted over from close range.
Since the group stage only eliminates eight of the 24 teams, the draw leaves Japan and Argentina needing one victory in their next two games. Both will need to find a way to score.
“We’ve still got two teams to face and they’re going to be really competitive,” said Banini. “We have to play really intelligent, compact football and become a really compact team and I think that we can progress.
“We believe that we can continue fighting and we can get more points and not go home with just one.”
In the late match in Montpellier, Cameroon, playing their second World Cup, also set out to defend in the Group E opener.
Canada struggled with their shooting and only broke through from a set piece just before half time.
Defender Kadeisha Buchanan arrived late to meet a corner at the far post and bounced a header past Annette Ngo Ndom in the Cameroon goal. It was Buchanan’s fourth international goal. Three have been from headers.
Canada’s veteran striker Christine Sinclair, who needs four more goals to overtake retired American Abby Wambach as the top scorer in women’s international football, had a particularly difficult night in front of goal.
The other two teams in the group, Netherlands and New Zealand, meet in Le Havre on Tuesday.