Japan 1-2 Sweden: Blågult outclass Nadeshiko to reach semifinals

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Two teams entered the pitch at Eden Park- but only one could return for the semi-finals. The night was calm, but a storm was brewing in Auckland: a storm formed in the haze of battle unfolding between two of the world’s best. Undefeated and unwavering in their quest for glory, Japan and Sweden took to the pitch with their sights on victory. The Nadeshiko have beaten the Blågult only once in this competition, and they did it the same year they won it. With the stakes high and the margins close, Japan hoped history would give them the edge they needed to see off Sweden. 

JPN: Yamashita, Minami, Kumagai, Takahashi, Sugita, Nagano, Hasegawa, Shimizu, Miyazawa, Tanaka, Fujino

SWE: Musovic, Andersson, Eriksson, Ilestedt, Björn, Angeldahl, Rubensson, Rolfo, Asllani, Rytting Kaneryd

After surviving an onslaught of US aggression last Sunday, Sweden decided to take control this time and they did it from minute one. The tables had fully turned, with Japan sitting deep and looking to soak up pressure until they could break on the counter. Although, Sweden created little each time they managed to break through Japan’s defensive line – and it was the same story for Japan each time they managed to get out of their own half. 

After 25 minutes of football, neither side had taken a single shot at goal yet. However, that changed when Blackstenius suddenly found space behind Japan’s defence after shrugging off Kumagai. Only the keeper remained in the way of her taking the lead, but she couldn’t take advantage of a golden opportunity. She fired past Yamashita’s left post from close range, in a huge let-off for the Nadeshiko.

As Japan began to find their feet in the match again, they managed to control possession for longer and higher up the pitch – but they couldn’t create any clear goalscoring opportunities. It wouldn’t be long before Sweden were at the gates again though with an onslaught of attacking aggression, managing to force set-pieces in Japan’s half as a way of imposing themselves.

The result of their control came in the 32nd minute for Sweden, when they delivered a ball into Japan’s box from a set piece. In a scrappy affair in the penalty area, Sweden delivered shot after shot to force the goal. The ball eventually found the feet of Ilestedt, who finished from close range into the top corner. Sweden had taken the lead and for the first time this summer, Japan found themselves behind. 

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For the first time in this tournament, Japan looked vulnerable and at the mercy of Sweden’s wrath. The Blågult looked to continue their control and double their lead before the break – and the chance almost came for them with only minutes left before half-time, when Asllani took aim from the edge of the Japanese box. She shot low and fast to Yamashita’s left corner, seemingly destined for goal. However, the Japanese ‘keeper got minimal – but crucial – contact to push the ball onto the post.

Japan were happy to hear the half-time whistle as they looked to regroup and find their way back into the match. Japan manager, Futoshi Ikeda, made a change at half-time with this objective in mind. Jun Endo replaced Hina Sugita on the pitch for the second half – and with this change, Japan looked to start the second half better than the first.

However, it was business as usual for Sweden as they remained in control. Their attacking threat continued as early into the second half as the 47rd minute, when Rytting Kaneryd’s deflected shot from the edge of the box forced another impressive save from Yamashita to keep Japan alive.

The resulting corner offered another chance for Sweden, and although they didn’t score directly from the set piece, it was a Japanese hand that gifted them an opportunity. As the ball was delivered from the corner, Nagano was found to have handled the ball from a close-range deflection. While the VAR ruling was harsh, the referee adjudged her to have extended her arm in an unnatural position. 

As a result, the penalty was awarded to give Sweden the opportunity to double their lead. Angeldahl stepped up to the spot to give her country the commanding lead their football has deserved, shooting low to the keeper’s right to ensure Sweden’s lead was extended to a comfortable two-goal buffer.

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Japan looked to respond with urgency in their play to find their way back into contention. However, the next twenty minutes only saw Japan take two shots at goal. Despite scoring 14 goals already this summer, Japan’s efficiency in front of goal seemed to be absent – as they still couldn’t produce a shot on target.

Fujino’s low strike in the 71st minute seemingly gave life again to Japan, who continued to test Sweden as they controlled more of the ball. Having been introduced from the bench, Riko Ueki looked to make the difference in their attack – and with 15 minutes remaining, she almost did just that as she drove into the box. Janogy was judged to have made contact with her, though in truth, the Japanese forward fell under minimal pressure. However, the referee had no hesitation and awarded Japan a penalty – and a lifeline.

Riko Ueki stood over the ball to fire Japan back into contention. After winning the penalty, she intended to follow through with the goal they needed. She shot high and down the middle, but instead of nestling in the net ,it ricocheted off the bar. The ball bounced down and looked like it could have crossed the line – but the referee gave no indication it had. Japan had missed a golden opportunity, and they continued to trail by two. 

However, they didn’t lose hope as they continued to cause problems for Sweden in the remaining stages of the match. In a match where the Blågult looked to be in total control, the Scandinavians suddenly looked vulnerable as Japan found space in Sweden’s defence. Their best chance for redemption came late with a free-kick on the edge of the Sweden box. With only minutes remaining, Japan needed to score to keep their chances alive.

Fujino delivered a looping ball high above Musovic, which deflected off the crossbar and onto the back of the Swedish \keeper. It then deflected onto the post and across the line – tantalisingly close to crossing it, but the chance remained alive for Japan, who were desperate to reduce the deficit. The ball was delivered back into the box, and Sweden failed to clear it, leaving the ball free and open for Hayashi to run in and finish from close range.

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Japan had one back with only minutes remaining. As Musovic recovered in the aftermath of the goal, the fourth official raised her board aloft to reveal ten minutes had been added on. Ten minutes left for the Nadeshiko to find one more goal to force extra-time; ten minutes left for Japan to continue their quest for renewed glory. 

However, Japan could only test Musovic once more, with the shot-stopper denying the second goal they needed. Sweden controlled the tempo to see off the game, ultimately dealing a fatal blow to Japan’s World Cup hopes – and eliminating the only remaining former champions.

Sweden will play Spain at Eden Park next Tuesday in the semi-finals. They’ve now knocked out two past World Champions, with performances worthy of claiming the title for themselves. With Japan’s elimination, it’s now ensured that a new country will be crowned as World Champions this summer.