June 27, 2011

Japan 2, New Zealand 1

Aya Miyama's goal off of a free kick in 68th minute proved to be the winner as Japan defeated New Zealand 2-1 in Group B play on Monday.

Japan came into the match as the favorite and they wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. Shinobu Ohno hit a soft chip that split New Zealand's two central defenders and sent Yuki Nagasato through. With Ferns' goalkeeper Jenny Bindon coming out, Nagasato chipped the ball neatly over Bindon's head to make it 1-0 for Japan just six minutes in.

New Zealand's strategy for the day was to test the Japanese defense with long balls and it paid off in the 12th minute. Anna Green sent a long ball out of the back that Ria Percival ran down in the deep right corner. Percival crossed the ball to the far post, where Amber Hearn was waiting for the opportunity. Hearn rose up and headed it past Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori to tie the match.

Japan maintained a healthy edge in possession throughout the match, but they had to be wary of long balls over the top and counterattacks. The Nadeshiko created several chances later in the first half.

Bindon was forced to make a diving save on Ohno's drive from 22 yards in the 17th minute. Just a minute later, Yukari Kinga hit a cross from the right side and Mizuho Sakaguchi volleyed it off the left post, with Bindon making a save against Homare Sawa on the rebound. The Japanese team had come so close to regaining the lead.

Later in the half, Ohno struck one just over the bar from 15 yards out and a Nagasato header off of a corner kick went tantalizingly wide. However, the half ended with the score still tied at one.

The first 20 minutes of the second half were remarkable only for the lack of chances produced. Japan continued to control possession, while New Zealand continued to look for counterattacking opportunities.

But in the 67th minute, Ferns' veteran Rebecca Smith was whistled and carded for tripping Mana Iwabuchi just outside the penalty area and a free kick was awarded. Aya Miyama calmly struck the shot into the upper right corner of the net from 20 yards out, just beyond Bindon's hands and it was 2-1 for Japan.

In the 69th minute, Green very nearly caught Kaihori off guard, as she elected to shoot her free kick, with the ball going just over the crossbar. Unfortunately for the Ferns, it was one of the last chances they would have to draw even.

Iwabuchi nearly increased the lead in the 89th minute, but her drive from 22 yards missed the left post by inches. The 18 year old, who came on as a 2nd half substitution, looked very good in the 35 minutes she was in the match.

New Zealand had one final chance after being awarded a free kick 25 yards out in stoppage time. Amber Hearn's attempt dipped just over the bar and Japan preserved the 2-1 victory.

Japan will take on a game Mexican squad the Friday, while New Zealand will play England in the other Group B match.