Sweden kept the party going at their first FIFA U-17 World Cup with a 2-1 win over Japan in their Round of 16 game in Sharjah. The Japanese had most of the possession, as is their custom, but Sweden got the crucial goals en route to a place in the quarter-finals, where they will meet Central American over-achievers Honduras.
As has been his way here in UAE, Japan coach Horofumi Yoshitake made no fewer than eight changes to his team ahead of the knockout contest. Even so, the east Asian skill-merchants bossed the first-half in terms of possession. But passing the ball around is one thing, and scoring goals is another. And it was the Swedes who turned their direct play into numbers on the scoreboard.
The Scandinavians, powerful in the air and fast up the flanks, scored the opening goal after just 11 minutes. Mirza Halvadzic burst up the left side on a lightning counter-attack and crossed for Valmir Berisha, who poked home from point-blank range for his third goal of the finals.
Japan did their all to haul themselves back into the game, their neat passing style creating a few chances here and there. Kosei Uryu tried a shot in anger after 15 minutes and he had the ball in the goal eight minutes after that, only to have his effort called back for offside.
They were punished for their profligacy three minutes on as the Swedes doubled their lead. Halvadzic blasted up the wing again and fired a tame shot that Teimosii Shiraoka could only fumble. Striker Gustav Engvall was on hand to finish up the rebound for his third goal of the tournament.
Swedish goalkeeper Sixten Mohlin had to be on his toes in the dying minutes of the first half to block a tidy strike from Koji Miyoshi and keep it 2-0 for the Swedes at the interval. Japan were in need of a goal and they pushed forward early in the second half, chasing the game desperately. And they made it 2-1 after 56 minutes when new man Hiroki Ogawa burst into the danger zone on the end of a through ball and hit toward goal. Sweden defender Linus Wahlqvist put the ball into his own net while attempting to clear the danger.
But the yellow-clad side from northern Europe were back on the charge eight minutes after that. Elias Andersson drove his shot from a tight angle just the wrong side of the post after breaking into the penalty area. it proved their only real threat on goal for the entire second period. Japan, on the other hand, pressed and pressed through half-time substitute Ogawa, who added much-needed impetus to the Asian cause. But it wasn’t enough to save the day as Sweden keep their maiden U-17 finals going with a spot in the last eight.