Despite their unexpected loss to a gutsy England team, Japan gave yet another master class in wonderful attacking football on Sunday at Waikato Stadium.
The Japanese style brought to mind the fantastic Columbian team of the early to mid-1990's, with wild haired Carlos Valeramma at their apex.
New Zealand's love affair with Mana Iwabuchi was frustratingly fleeting, with the Japan No10's brilliance on show over just three thrilling matches. However, what the 15-year-old was unable to provide in quantity, she more than made up for in quality, leaving Kiwi crowds with unforgettable memories of a dazzling natural talent.
Hailed as a "future star of women's football" by Gerard Sergent after orchestrating Japan's 3-2 win over the eventual runners-up, Iwabuchi went on to justify the France coach's claim by ripping his side to shreds in a sensational 7-1 win. Rested for the Young Nadesiko's final group game, she returned for the quarter-final against England only to depart the stadium in floods of tears after a cruel and undeserved defeat on penalties.
The tournament was undoubtedly poorer for Iwabuchi's premature exit, but when the time came to vote for the player of the tournament, the Kiwi media provided the ultimate token of their enduring esteem and affection.