The match for third place at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016, between USA and Japan, was a distinctly one-sided affair. The Asians were supremely dominant in every department, racking up 29 shots to their opponents' three, twice as many corners and 63 per cent possession. Nevertheless, this dominance was not reflected in the stat that matters most: the scoreline. Indeed, as the encounter entered its dying stages, the Americans, who had largely been pinned back in front of goalkeeper Casey Murphy, looked on course to survive the onslaught.
Cue the intervention of Mami Ueno with a mere three minutes left on the clock. Picking up the ball just inside the area, to the left of goal, the half-time substitute conjured up an unstoppable, angled chip that looped over the helpless Stars and Stripes keeper's head and into the net. "I meant to shoot. That was my first instinct," a radiant Ueno told FIFA.com. "But I mis-hit it ever so slightly, hence the strange trajectory of the ball," she admitted, "I'm happy that we got the goal just before the end."
Just moments later, Ueno and Co celebrated once more as the final whistle rang out at the National Football Stadium in Port Moresby. For the second time in their history, Japan had sealed a place on the podium at the U-20 Women's World Cup, emulating their exploits on home turf in 2012.
"Before the tournament, our aim was to win the title. Unfortunately things didn't quite go our way in extra time in the semi-finals [when France ran out 2-1 winners], but we were determined to learn our lessons ahead of the play-off for third spot. That paid off and at the end of the day we can be pleased with the third-place finish," said the match-winner.
Ueno's strike, her fifth of the tournament, did not only settle the contest – it also broke a tie with Brazil's Gabi Nunes and Sweden's Stina Blackstenius to leave the Japanese starlet out on her own at the top of the goalscoring charts. As a result, she will be departing Papua New Guinea with not just a bronze medal, but also the adidas Golden Boot in her luggage: "I hadn't realised before the match that I was in with a chance of winning this prize, but I'm obviously thrilled. My role in the team is to score goals. I give everything I've got to do that and I've managed to deliver the goods here."
"This was my first World Cup and I was nervous at the beginning, but my confidence grew with every game and I've enjoyed the experience of playing in another country and continent."
The attacker's efforts have earned her plaudits aplenty, including from coach Asako Takakura, who waxed lyrical about Ueno's hard work and the huge progress she has made: "There's no doubt that she had a big hand in us finishing third."
The 20-year-old will arrive back in Japan with her profile soaring, but she intends to keep her feet firmly on the ground. On this note, when asked about the bright future that appears to beckon for her, she sensibly replied that, "I have to take things one step at a time. It's not good to get ahead of yourself."
Nevertheless, one thing that seems certain is that one of these next steps will involve shining on the senior international stage. In the words of Takakura, who also coaches the Nadeshiko, "With her class, I'm sure that she's going to take the full national team to the next level."