Having scored 17 goals in three thrilling group games, the Japanese - New Zealand 2008's great entertainers - began this match as overwhelming favourites, and the opening exchanges looked to be adhering to the expected script.
Indeed, it took only eight minutes for the Young Nadeshiko to take a deserved lead, with Mana Iwabuchi slipping a delightful reverse pass through the English defence with the outside of her foot to release Chinatsu Kira. The Japan No9 obliged with a finish worthy of the assist, angling a right-foot shot just inside the far post.
England seemed unable to cope with their Asian opponents' skill and movement at this stage, but they rallied as half-time approached and went into the break boosted by a quite brilliant equaliser. Lucy Staniforth claimed it, punishing some hesitancy in the Japan defence by bursting dynamically through a crowded midfield area before smashing home a terrific, low right-foot shot from 20 yards.
Lois Fidler's side barely deserved this equaliser, but they improved massively in the second half, subduing Japan by holding a high defensive line and pressing the the Japanese midfielders and forwards at every opportunity. Yet with eight minutes reaming, Iwabuchi looked to have secured victory when she escaped the close marking of Lucy Bronze for the first time in the second half, cut inside and thumped the ball past Lauren Davey from close range.
That, however, was until Isobel Christiansen provided a bolt from the blue in injury time, finding the top left-hand corner from fully 40 yards to produce a surefire contender for goal of the tournament. Extra time failed to yield a winner, so the game went to penalties, where Davey and Gemma Bonner emerged as England's heroines, the former saving from Natsumi Kameoka and the latter firing home a superb winning kick.