The second semifinal of this tournament kicked off (mercifully) under the closed roof of the “home” stadium for the Women’s world cup in Frankfurt before 45,434 avid, largely face-painted and occasionally wild fans.
Sweden suffered a setback a quarter of an hour before the first ball was even kicked, however, as world player of the year finalist Caroline Seger was withdrawn from the match with a calf injury.
With her natural replacement (Nilla Fischer) suspended for this game for a truly idiotic yellow card vs Australia, Sweden turned to Hammarstrom to cover.
Early on the Swedish defense looked slightly vulnerable, often failing to deal with Japan’s probing attacks. Just on 10′, however, the game unexpectedly had it’s first goal.
A soft pass from captain Sawa across the middle was intercepted by Josephine Oqvist, who ran through a weak challenge from the Japanese central defense, then launched a strike off Kumagai’s leg into the far corner of the net. Sweden began celebrating what must have seemed a certain outcome.
Eight minutes later, however, Japan drove that thought firmly out. Ohno began a magical run diagonally across the Swedish defense (none of whom elected to challenge her for reasons which bear investigating), ending up just outside the 18 yard box, whereupon she pushed a neat pass out left to Kawasumi.
The Japanese #9 ran onto the pass and crossed the ball perfectly to the right post where Ando waited. The ball rattled off Oqvist (tracking back well to cover), then Ando, then through Hedwig Lindahl in the Swedish goal. Ultimately, the goal was credited to Kawasumi.
For the next 10 minutes, the Swedes continued to probe the Japanese defense but seemed unable to break them down (sound familiar?). Strangely for a club that dominated Australia with width, the Swedish attack seemed funnelled through the middle of the pitch.
Schelin was caught several times just offside to end Swedish attacking moves.
Then, on 33′, stand in Captain Rohlin surrendered a free kick just outside Sweden’s penalty area. Miyama hit an absolute cracker, requiring of Lindahl an excellent diving save that saw the ball pushed just wide of the right post.
This – equally amazingly – produced the first corner of the match (34′ in!).
Sweden then began fully to use their physical advantage to create opportunity. This backfired, as all that was produced were 3 Japanese free kicks.
In the run up to the break, Sweden continued to look a bit ragged on defense. Offensively, in the 42nd, Dahlqvist (otherwise invisible in the opening frame) carried the ball toward the Japanese area.
She pulled up and appeared undecided whether to shoot or cross. In the end, she did neither, and the opening half ended with a whimper. (Possession: Japan 62% Shots Japan 6/Sweden 3)
After the break, Japan opened quickly: Ohno pulled up 30yds from goal hand struck toward the top half of the net. Lindahl was beaten, but the ball rattled off the crossbar.
A couple of minutes later, Schelin was once again caught offside on a play with real potential. At some point, credit must go to Japan for defending brilliantly rather than Sweden’s errors.
On 59′ the stalemate was broken. Sameshima launched a long pass into the Swedish area. Lindahl charged the ball, but her attempt to claim it was partially obstructed by her own defender, thus the ball bounced free and Sawa headed in to put Japan ahead.
This would not be the last time that communication between keeper and defense was in question for Sweden…
Just five minutes later, (64′) Japan fired a long pass into the Swedish area once more (law #46, you gotta go with what works…).
With Ando running free between the defenders, Lindahl had no choice but to charge the ball again. She beat her opponent to it, but her necessarily hurried clearance went astray.
Kawasumi leapt on the free ball and after a brief touch to control it, lobbed it behind the hapless Lindahl, trapped far off her line. It was a fantastic shot, dropping just under the bar on the far side of the goal, giving neither the goalkeeper or her covering defense any chance to save it.
After a flurry of substitutions for both sides, the semi final was over. Japan were deserving 3-1 victors over yet another opponent who figured to outclass them coming in (and yes, that’s becoming quite a pattern for opponents of this wonderfully organized Japanese side.)
As late as the 85′ minute, Sweden were still trying to attack them through the middle. Sjogran & Schelin, who had played wide to such great effect against Australia and other opponents, were largely neutralized in this encounter.
Similarly, the previously impressive Dahlqvist made no real impact. We could put this down to a poor outing, but in fact they are far from the first to be made to look bad by the Japanese. The Asian qualifiers are not to be taken lightly.
(Final stats: Poss: Japan 60% Shots Japan 14 Sweden 4)
And with that, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup final is set:
The USA will play Japan for the championship in this same Frankfurt Stadium on Sunday evening. Expect another sellout. Expect a fantastic game.
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