World champions Japan survived a spirited French fightback to book their place in the final of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament and keep their dreams of a gold medal alive.
Charles Dickens referred to London ‘as a tale of two cities’, well here in London’s Wembley Stadium, this was a tale of two halves. The first, lacking in chances and incident, the second a feast of football.
Although it was France who began the brighter of the sides, it was the Asians who took the lead with 32 minutes on the clock. Wendie Renard needlessly fouled Yuki Ogimi 35 yards from goal and up stepped Nadeshiko captain Aya Miyama to take the resulting free-kick.
She floated a delightful ball into the box, which Sarah Bouhaddi came to claim, but she missed it completely. Ogimi managed to squeeze a shot home, despite the best efforts of Sandrine Soubeyrand.
Norio Sasaki’s side began the second half on the front foot and doubled their advantage when the inability to deal with another Miyama free-kick cost the French. Again, the Japan skipper sent over a floating free-kick, Mizuho Sakaguchi lost her marker and had the time and space to head the ball home from 12 yards.
From then on, it was all France. Corine Franco, Marie-Laure Delie and Louisa Necib all had chances but were frustrated by wayward finishing or the goalkeeping heroics of Miho Fukumoto.
Undeterred, still they poured forward. In the 71st minute, Franco found Delie in the box, who turned sharply and produced a goalbound shot which the Japanese No1 did well to save low to her left.
Five minutes later, they pulled one back. Elodie Thomis embarked on a strong run down the right flank and played the ball inside to Delie, who found Eugenie Le Sommer. The substitute produced a superb right-footed finish.
Shortly afterwards France were handed a great chance to equalise when Sakaguchi checked Le Sommer’s run inside the box, leaving referee Quetzalli Alvarado no other option but to award a penalty kick. Up stepped the experienced Elise Bussaglia, who fired wide of the post.
With France committing so many forward in search of the equaliser, there was always the danger that Japan could hit them on the break and they almost scored a third from a quick counter-attack, Ogimi hitting the post with just Bouhaddi to beat.
There was still time for one last piece of drama when makeshift striker Renard almost equalised, but Fukumoto pulled off a fine save. Shortly after, the final whistle went, putting Japan through to a final with USA and sending France to Coventry for the bronze medal match.