Japan are into their second successive FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Final but it took a cruel and unlucky injury-time own goal from Laura Bassett for the pair to be separated.
England gave as good as they got throughout the entire match with the two teams sharing first-half penalties via the boost of Aya Miyama and Fara Williams. The match seemed destined for 30 extra minutes only for England’s goal to be breached in the penultimate minute of injury time.
Barely 30 seconds into the contest Jodie Taylor left fly with an impressive effort which narrowly went the wrong side of the post from a position similar to her crucial quarter-final opener against Canada.
There was plenty of early endeavour from both teams but little in the way of gilt-edged goalscoring opportunities. England’s Toni Duggan fired a snapshot over while the same player failed to make good contact on the volley from a Jill Scott cross a few minutes later.
Then from nothing Japan were in front. A perfectly flighted ball from central defender Azusa Iwashimizu released a flying Saori Ariyoshi behind a flat-footed defence only for the No19 to be brought down by Claire Rafferty, allowing *Nadeshiko *captain Miyama to coolly slot home from the penalty spot.
Yet within seven minutes England were level from the penalty spot, in a sequence similar to that in Tuesday’s first semi-final between USA and Germany. This time Steph Houghton was deemed to have been brought down by Yuki Ogimi and Williams crashed home a near unstoppable effort from the penalty spot.
Both teams opened the second period with good tempo and Duggan crashed a shot onto the crossbar just past the hour mark leaving England just inches away from taking the lead. Almost immediately substitute Ellen White had goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori at full stretch to push away a goalbound effort amid a succession of corners for the Europeans. From one of those corners Scott pushed a header narrowly wide as England turned up the heat.
Japan’s resilience, however, is renowned and the holders were in no mood to relinquish their crown without a fight. Mana Iwabuchi was introduced with 20 minutes remaining and the quarter-final match-winner was immediately at her livewire best jinking into the penalty area and firing a shot wide. Mizuho Sakaguchi then kept the 31,467 crowd on edge with a header wide.
England to their credit did not allow Japan to play with their usual composure setting up a desperate finale as both teams searched for a winner in normal time. Japan made one final break down the right flank and Bassett’s stretch to cut out a cross only served to turn the ball into her own goal off the underside of the bar.
*Live Your Goals Player of the Match: Saori Ariyoshi (Japan) *