Japan 3-1 Norway: Nadeshiko saunter through to quarterfinals with meticulous precision

An absorbing contest kicked off in Wellington on Saturday, with both sides refreshed after ending the group stage with high-scoring wins. Japan enjoyed a statement victory against Spain, whilst Norway battered the Philippines 6-0 – and it wouldn’t take long for goals to filter into this intense matchup, with a quarterfinal spot up for grabs.

JPN: Yamashita; Minami, Kumagi, Takahashi; Endo, Nagano, Hasegawa, Shimizu; Fujino, Tanaka, Miyazawa

NOR: Mikalsen; Hansen, Harviken, Mjelde, Bjelde; Reiten, Risa, Engen; Haavi, Roman Haug, Graham Hansen

The game was just 15 minutes old when a probing Japan took the lead through a goal Ingrid Syrstad Engen won’t want to see again. Hinata Miyazawa cut inside from the left wing and looked to hit the penalty spot with her cross – but back-tracking and panicked, Engen stuck out a leg and unfortunately diverted the ball past an onrushing Aurora Mikalsen. 

It was a frustrating way to go behind, yet Norway hit back just five minutes later. Mikalsen smashed a long goal kick forward and Vilde Bøe Risa pounced – searing down the right side before standing up an inviting cross. Rising highest was Guro Reiten and her header was sublime, nestling in the top left corner. It signalled a defiant equaliser, as well as Japan’s first goal conceded of the tournament.

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What viewers had now was a game teetering on a knife edge, as the teams matched each other blow for blow in the first half. The dangerous Mina Tanaka was given too much time and space outside Norway’s box. The Scandinavians almost dared her to take a shot, and that she did. Looking for the bottom right corner, the striker drove clear of the goal. 

A minute later, a direct Norway went close. Japan seemingly struggled with the boisterous physicality, and it almost bore fruit as a loose ball squirmed out to Guro Reiten. However, it was to be Japanese relief as her shot flew just wide. As the first half battled on, Japan demonstrated a signature patience in possession. Norway, on the other hand, were less meticulous.

Japan’s artistry offered up the last big chance five minutes before the break. A bouncing ball caused havoc in the middle, and Tanaka was able to direct a pass out to the right of the area. Risa Shimizu latched on – but she could only whizz a right-footed drive up and over Mikalsen’s goal.

Aside from that attempt, Japan had lacked any intimidating edge. Possession and pacing was dominated, yet the penetration wasn’t there. Futoshi Ikeda’s desire for more going forward must’ve been listened to at the break, as Japan bound into the ascendency once again.

Merely three minutes into the second half, nicely worked play down the left moved inwards to Yui Hasegawa and she found space, striking a bouncing ball at Mikalsen’s goal. It was an easy save, yet debatably precursor for Japan’s lead as they grew in confidence breaking through Norway’s lines.

Just two minutes after that, Risa Shimizu threw Japan back in front, with huge thanks to defensive ineptitude at work. A shifty looking (needless) back pass was punished, as Shimizu intercepted in front of Tuva Hansen. She struck the ball – and with Mikalsen planted, a damning deflection off Mathilde Harviken had the Nadeshiko celebrating.

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Norway boss Hege Riise rolled the dice with her team behind opting for a double change. Frida Maanum and Karina Sævik came on for Vilde Bøe Risa and Emilie Bosshard Haavi – these changes injected fresh energy and after a short spell under the cosh, Norway looked to equalise. 

Caroline Graham Hansen was a catalyst – first finding Sævik who dragged one wide. Then, Hansen herself was dancing inside from the left with ten minutes remaining, before firing straight at Ayaka Yamashita. 

Japan held out firm and, in heartbreaking fashion for Norway, clinched the win with a smooth insurance goal. Hinata Miyazawa had enjoyed an excellent tournament thus far, and now she was on the score sheet for the fifth time at this World Cup. Teenager Aoba Fujino picked the Norwegian lock and Miyazawa waltzed in behind, sitting Mikalsen down while slotting into the bottom right corner.

Despite late pressure from Norway which forced a sublime save from Yamashita, the Japanese secured their quarter final place. There, they will either play Sweden or the United States – with the clash taking place on August 11.

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