Aya Miyama’s well executed free-kick earned Japan a 2-1 defeat of New Zealand in Group B’s opening match at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™. Yuki Nagasato had put the Asians ahead, before Amber Hearn equalised for the Oceania side.
While Japan and were the favourites to emerge victorious, they were forced to work hard for the win against a New Zealand side who pressed them from the first minute to the last. The Asians took control of the game from kick-off and Miyama had two attempts in the early stages, though both went wide of Jenny Bindon’s goal. It did not take the Nadeshiko long to open the scoring, however. An expertly placed through-ball from Shinobu Ohno was threaded in between central defenders Rebecca Smith and Abby Erceg, and Nagasato timed her run to perfection to lob the advancing keeper.
With the Kiwis’ defence looking nervous and stretched, it seemed as though the Asians may take advantage, but John Herdman's side responded in the best possible way just six minutes later when Ria Percival’s inch-perfect cross was headed home by Hearn.
Only the post came in between Japan and their second goal in the 18th minute, when Mizuho Sakaguchi should have done better after being supplied by Yukari Kinga. Although the Japanese had the majority of the possession after that chance, New Zealand’s committed defending limited them to just a handful of half-chances.
It was largely the same story for the first half of the second 45 minutes, Japan enjoying a huge territorial advantage with New Zealand looking for opportunities on the counter-attack. However, it was a break from substitute Mana Iwabuchi which led to the second goal. The forward’s pacy, direct run was stopped on the edge of the box by a foul from New Zealand skipper Smith. From the resulting free-kick, Miyama curled the ball over the wall and beyond the dive of Bindon to put the Japanese ahead.
In the closing stages, Iwabuchi had a glorious chance to double Japan's advantage, but fired tamely into Bindon’s hands from close range after Homare Sawa’s shot was only partially cleared. Iwabuchi also tried two impressive shots from distance but both went wide.
While Japan will be happier with the result, both sides will be looking for improvements in their next games against Mexico and England respectively.
Player of the match: Aya Miyama