Japan ended a 16-year wait by qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ quarter-finals thanks to an overwhelming 4-0 win over Mexico in Leverkusen.
Captain Homare Sawa was the hero, scoring a treble, with Japan in a near unassailable position by half-time holding a three-goal advantage.
Two quickfire goals saw the Asian side take control in the early stages, with Sawa and Shinobu Ohno netting just prior to the quarter-hour mark.
Any momentum that Mexico were hoping to maintain from their impressive opening draw with England was soon snuffed out by the goals. In truth, it was a similar slow start for El Tri as in their previous match when they fell behind early.
Japan captain Sawa started the goalscoring on 13 minutes by nodding home at the far post following a perfectly flighted free-kick delivered from the left by Aya Miyama.
Just two minutes later, Ohno fired home from just inside the penalty area after being set up by Yuki Nagasato, with the pair both showing quality touches to make the most of a porous Mexico defence.
Mexico were struggling to get their attacking players involved with long balls to the likes of Maribel Dominguez and Monica Ocampo providing little return.
The Miyama-Sawa combination linked again six minutes before the break with the latter grabbing her second. Sawa nodded home unchallenged at the near post following a pinpoint corner delivered by the diminutive Miyama.
It could have been even worse for Mexico prior to the break with Nagasato slipping the ball into the net only to be ruled offside.
After the break, Stephany Mayor’s long-range shot extracted a fine one-handed save from a diving Ayumi Kaihori, offering a degree of hope for Leonardo Cuellar’s troops.
Dominguez, Mexico’s key attacking weapon, was withdrawn just past the hour mark, replaced by defender Kenti Robles, perhaps suggesting damage minimisation and looking towards the final match against New Zealand was now part of El Tri's strategy.
Normal service was soon resumed with Nagasato smartly turning on the edge of the penalty area only for the Turbine Potsdam striker to see her deflected shot hit the post.
From the ensuing corner Miyama nearly embarrassed 16-year-old goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago with the ball clipping the top of the crossbar.
Ten minutes from time Sawa completed a superb hat-trick - her first treble in her fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup. Yukari Kinga concluded a smart team move by cutting in from the right and setting up the skipper, who swept home from ten metres.
Player of the match: Homare Sawa