Japan reached the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ for the first time with a deserved 3-1 win over a Sweden side who had previously won every match they had played at Germany 2011.
Twenty years ago the teams met in the tournament in China PR, with the Scandinavians running out 8-0 winners, but there was to be no such repeat in Frankfurt as the Nadeshiko continued their 15-year unbeaten run against their opponents.
Sweden were dealt a blow shortly before kick-off, when inspirational captain Caroline Seger was forced to withdraw from the starting line-up with an injury to her left calf. The 26-year-old sat out of the Blagult’s training session last night, but aggravated the muscle again in the warm-up. Orebro’s Marie a Hammarstrom was the late replacement. Japan also made one change, with Nahomi Kawasumi replacing Yuki Nagasato as the focal point of their attack.
There was a large and receptive crowd of 45,434 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Stadium, with the roof not only acting as a shelter from the heavy showers which had affected Hessen during the day, but also as a sounding board for the fans’ loud cheers to bounce off.
It was the Swedish supporters who were singing after ten minutes. Homare Sawa’s mis-placed pass was latched on to by Oqvist, who powered past Azusa Iwashimizu and hit a shot which flew over Ayumi Kaihori, via a slight deflection off Saki Kumagai, and into the net.
The Sweden forward had a hand in the game’s next goal, but unfortunately for the her it was at the wrong end. Following a powerful run down the centre from Shinobu Ohno, the ball was played to Aya Miyama on the left. She crossed into the box and, under intense pressure from Oqvist, Kawasumi’s touch took the ball beyond Hedvig Lindahl.
Following a spell in which the teams traded spells of possession, the game's next real chance came when Japan won a free-kick on the edge of the area following Charlotte Rohlin’s foul on Kawasumi. Predictably, Miyama stepped up to take the free-kick, which almost caught Lindahl off-guard before she recovered well to push the ball around her right-hand post.
Sweden, on the other hand, were struggling to create any real opportunities and balls played down the channels for Lotta Schelin failed to reach their intended target.
The second-half began at a frenetic pace and the Asians almost took the lead when Ohno’s dipping half-volley clipped the top of the crossbar. On the hour mark they managed it. Following good build-up play down the right, the ball was played along the edge of the box before it was swung into the danger zone. Lindahl came to claim it but failed to make it, and Sawa was on hand to head home her fourth goal of the tournament.
Four minutes later Japan doubled their advantage. Lindahl came out to deal with a long ball which seemed destined to reach Kozue Ando, but her clearance fell straight to Kawasumi, who hit a hopeful shot from 35 yards. The 25-year-old forward seemed as delighted as the Japanese fans to see her effort fly over the Sweden goalkeeper and defence and ripple the back of the net.
With a shots on goal ratio of 11 to one in favour of Japan, Thomas Dennerby sent on Jessica Landstrom, Sofia Jakobsson and Antonia Goransson for Linda Forsberg, Marie Hammarstrom and Oqvist respectively, in a bid to bring his side back into the match. Although Sweden enjoyed a greater territorial advantage, the hard-working Japan defence limited them to just a handful of half-chances.
Indeed, it was Norio Sasaki’s side who remained the more threatening in the final stages and they closed the game out extremely well to book a place in Sunday’s final, also here in Frankfurt, against USA. Sweden, however, must regroup to face France in Sinsheim on Saturday evening in the match for third place.
Player of the match: Aya Miyama (JPN)