Just 90 minutes separate Japan and Sweden from a ticket to the ultimate prize, the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. For Sweden it would be their second appearance from the past three tournaments, having lost to Germany in the Final of USA 2003. Japan for their part have yet to make the showpiece match, and indeed have yet to be crowned queens of Asia. The Nadeshiko, however, qualified for the Germany 2011 semi-finals to reconfirm their quality after also reaching the last four at the Olympic Football Tournament in 2008; USA being the only other nation to do so at both tournaments.
Japan - Sweden, Wednesday 13 July, Frankfurt, 20.45 CET (local time)
Sweden may have the historical pedigree but Japan’s recent form against the Europeans is impressive. Norio Sasaki’s charges are undefeated against Sweden in their last four matches, recording two wins and two draws, including a win and draw in 2011. The last time Sweden triumphed was 15 years ago in an international played on US soil.
Japan too will undoubtedly take significant confidence from their quarter-final victory against Germany. Facing arguably the toughest test in the women’s game – Germany on home soil – the Nadeshiko showed remarkable resilience and organisation to claim victory, and keep their opponents scoreless over 120 minutes in Wolfsburg. Sweden will have the physical edge over their opponents, but Japan succeeding despite a similar size differential against Germany.
Japan are only the second Asian nation to reach the semi-finals; China PR achieved the feat in 1995 and 1999. Sweden, by contrast, are contesting their third semi-final in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Blagult were defeated 4-1 by Norway in 1991, while in 2003 they saw off Canada 2-1.
Both teams have a player on three goals apiece; Homare Sawa for Japan and Lisa Dahlkvist for Sweden. The Europeans can also count on the powerful attacking presence of Lotta Schelin, whose red-hot form has resulted in the No8 being named Player of the Match in the last two matches.
7 – The number of goals Japan and Sweden have scored in their four matches to date. Japan have scored just once in their last two outings, while the Blagult have hit the back of the net five times in their last two matches.
“Japan have an extra day off because they played a day earlier but I think, physically, we will be stronger. I think that’s something that we need to take advantage of and hopefully Japan won’t be as fresh as we’re going to be,” Caroline Seger, Sweden midfielder.
“Sweden have a chance to win against us and vice-versa. When we last had a friendly match we gained confidence and we have also improved since then. (Against Germany) we gained further valuable experiences, but only the god of football knows who will win,” Norio Sasaki, Japan coach.