The Japanese only just managed to see off a brave Republic of Ireland side on Friday night, winning out 2-1 in a tense and even encounter. The Irish battled with everything they had and hauled themselves back from a first-half deficit, only for the outstanding Kumi Yokoyama to seal victory with her fifth goal of the finals. The Japanese now move on to meet Korea DPR in the last four.
The Irish began the match with their trademark high-pressure approach and tireless running upsetting the more stylish Japanese, who were unable to settle into their preferred short-passing game. It took 16 full minutes for the Asians, 6-0 winners in their two previous games, to get a sniff at goal at the Larry Gomes Stadium. It came unsurprisingly from Kumi Yokoyama, who cut inside from the left and nearly curled her shot into the top corner. The two-goal scorer from the last game against New Zealand then repeated an almost identical miss a few seconds later.
The next chance of note was a long time coming, with Haruka Hamada collecting the ball from a short corner and firing at goal. The effort was a rather tame one in the 28th minute and Irish goalkeeper Grace Maloney hardly was troubled. The Irish had a chance shortly after, but Megan Campbell – who scored a 40-yard free-kick against Ghana in the last game – was unable to recreate the magic, firing well over the bar from a similar distance. Siobhan Killeen scored a pair of long-range efforts in the first round, but she was unable to repeat that feat seconds later, with her try going wide.
The Japanese finally managed to break down the Irish defence. Campbell made light contact with Yokoyama inside the area and the Canadian referee pointed to the spot amid fierce Irish protests. Hikaru Naomoto stepped up and caressed the ball to Maloney’s left to make it 1-0 in the 34th minute. Yokoyama then nearly made it 2-0 in the dying moments of the half, only for a great reflex save from Maloney.
The Irish were right back on level pegging early in the second period. Denise O’Sullivan chased down a hopeless pass and goalkeeper Eri Hirao, in a panic, cleared the ball directly into her own defender’s legs. O’Sullivan’s hard work paid off and she tapped into the open goal after making a little space for herself inside the box. Parity lasted only until the 66th minute when danger-woman Yokoyama got on the end of a long, looping punt from her keeper, wriggled past Ciara O’Brien and struck well with her right-foot to the top corner from the edge of the box.
The European qualifying runners-up nearly hit back straight-away, but Hirao eventually recovered after dropping Campbell’s firmly struck free-kick. Coach Noel King decided to roll the dice, bringing on a third striker in the form of towering centre-forward Rianna Jarrett. With her help, Donnelly had a golden chance to draw level again for the Irish in the closing minute, but she was thwarted at point-blank range by Hirao, who made amends for her earlier error. It proved the final chance of the contest as the brave Irish head for home while Japan complete a trio of Asian teams in the semi-finals of Trinidad and Tobago 2010. They will meet Korea DPR in Couva on 21 September.