Japan completed their play-off victory over Mexico, 4-2 aggregate, and at long last finalised the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003 field with a straightforward 2-0 victory in Tokyo. Homare Sawa and Karina Maruyama were the goal scorers as the Japanese have now qualified for all four Women’s World Cups.
With the first leg having ended 2-2, Japan knew that they could be more cautious than their North American counterparts. Nevertheless, as the match moved into the second half scoreless, a sense of unease began to settle on the National Stadium supporters.
However, star attacking midfielder Sawa responded to settle Japanese nerves in the 56th minute. Emi Yamamoto lofted a ball from just outside the area, and Sawa, who plays with the Atlanta Beat in the WUSA, nodded the ball past Mexico goalkeeper Pamela Tajonar.
Knowing that they then needed two goals to reach their second Women’s World Cup, Mexico struggled in vain for an attacking breakthrough. Leaving themselves more exposed cost them in the 83rd minute as second-half substitute Karina Maruyama darted onto the end of Yumi Obe’s long free kick to end Mexico’s chances … and start Japanese celebrations.
All in all, it was an admirable recovery for the Asian side after their stunning 1-0 loss to Korea Republic that sent them into the AFC/CONCACAF play-off to battle for the sixteenth and final spot at USA 2003. They are now one of eight teams to have played in every FIFA Women’s World Cup -- Brazil, China, Germany, Nigeria, Norway, Sweden and the United States are the others. Mexico miss out on the chance to participate in their second finals, after failing to take a point four years ago at USA 1999.
All eyes now turn to California, where the draw for the final event will be on 17 July at the Home Depot Center in Carson. The finals kick off on 20 September and will feature double-header match-ups in all venues through the completion of the semi-final stage. The first round group stage will be held between 20-28 September, the quarter-finals on 1-2 October, the semi-finals on 5 October, with the third-place match held on 11 October and the championship match on 12 October.
Final list of 16 qualified teams:
AFC: DPR Korea, China PR, Korea Republic, Japan
CAF: Nigeria, Ghana
CONCACAF: USA, Canada
CONMEBOL: Brazil, Argentina
UEFA: Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden, France