July 9, 2011

Japan Upsets Germany 1-0 in Overtime.

Japan pulled off one of the biggest upsets in women's soccer history in defeating the host German squad by 1-0 in overtime in a match played in Wolfsburg, Germany. In a match featuring two of most talented sides in women's soccer, it took 108 minutes before a goal was conceded, one that would shock the hugely pro-German crowd.

It was 2nd half substitute Karina Maruyama who became Japan's hero in the 108th minute. Perhaps her legs were just a little fresher than everyone elses at that late stage of the match. In perhaps of foreshadowing of things to come, Maruyama had scored a late goal against Germany five years ago in a 6-3 loss. This one had to be a bit more exciting for the Japanese veteran.

Once again, German coach Silvia Neid decided not to start Birgit Prinz. Little did anyone know that Prinz may have played her last World Cup match against Nigeria in Germany's second match.

Things started off on the wrong foot early on for the Germans. Just three minutes into the match, as both Mizuho Sakaguchi and Kim Kulig would go up to head a corner kick, Sakaguchi was knocked off balance and fell onto the leg of Kulig. Sadly, it appeared to be a serious injury for the German midfielder and she was forced to leave the match almost before it had started. Kulig was replaced by Bianca Schmidt, who entered as a defender, with Linda Bresonik moving from her outside back position into the midfield.

In the 9th minute, Kerstin Garefrekes broke through on the right side and sent a soft cross to the middle, but the Japanese defense were able to clear. It was a theme that would be repeated over and over throughout the match, Germany sending the ball into the penalty area and the Japanese defense clearing or Japanese keeper Ayumi Kaihori making a save.

A Melanie Behringer free kick from just outside the right side of the penalty area, came dangerously close to going in, with Saki Kumagai heading the ball out from very close to the goal line. Kerstin Garefrekes appeared to have control of the ball behind the Japanese defense on another free kick, but couldn't quite get a shot off and Japan once again cleared.

But while Germany were getting their chances, Japan clearly dominated possession in the first half, playing a beautiful passing game to control the tempo of the match. They nearly scored in the 30th minute as Saskia Bartusiak muffed an attempted clearance and Yuki Nagasato gained control of the ball on the right side of the box. However, Nagasato hooked her shot well wide of the post from 15 yards out.

Throughout the match, again and again, Kaihori made solid plays in goal. In the 32nd minute, she thwarted Celia Okoyino da Mbabi's sliding attempt only a few yards to the right of her goal. Meanwhile at the other end, Japan were troubling German keeper Nadine Angerer very little, in spite of their possession advantage. The half ended scoreless.

Norio Sasaki would send Maruyama out to start the second half in place of Nagasato. Having already used a substitution for the injured Kulig, Silvia Neid made no changes.

In the 48th minute, Garefrekes sent a soft serve to the 12 yard mark, which Inka Grings headed well over the crossbar. One had to feel that in spite of Japan's solid play, it was only a matter of time before Germany would score.

In the 56th minute, Germany came as close as they possibly could to scoring the first goal. Melanie Behringer's free kick was served perfectly to the back post, where Simone Laudehr had an uncontested header from in close. She guided it to the inside of the right post, but Yukari Kinga cleared the ball off the line.

In the 62nd minute, Aya Miyama tried to hit the upper left corner from 20 yards, but her shot sailed wide with Angerer there to cover it if it was on net.

In the 64th minute, Neid sent Lena Goessling in for Bresonik, who had been ailing with the flu earlier in the tournament. Sasaki countered by sending in Mana Iwabuchi for Shinobu Ohno. Iwabuchi would certainly be troublesome for the German defense in the later stages of the match, but her size was a disadvantage against the German back line who were usually able to shield her off the ball before she could get a shot off.

A Japanese corner kick almost produced a good chance, but Mizuho Sakaguchi's shot from 12 yards was blocked by Lena Goessling. With only 15 minutes left in regulation, both sides had to be wondering if either would score.

Germany nearly scored in the 77th minute. Simone Laudehr attempted to dribble into the box, but the ball was knocked away, only to be picked up by Garefrekes, who burst through an opening on the right side of the penalty area. She dribbled to the six uncontested and crossed the ball to Behringer who volleyed it well over the bar from 15 yards out.

Both teams traded half chances in the latter stages of the match, but there would be no scoring and the game headed to overtime.

Japan would have a scary moment just as overtime started. Homare Sawa appeared to get kicked or take a cleat to the groin area and was down for several minutes. She had to come off the field and Japan played short for a few minutes while she recovered.

Germany would get the first solid chance of the overtime. Okoyino da Mbabi would turn on Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu and get off a left-footed shot from 14 yards that would go wide of the left post. Japan appeared to be tiring as they started to make unforced turnovers in their own end. One led to a wide open Grings shot from inside the box, but it too went wide of the mark in the 101st minute. Neid sent Alexandra Popp in as her final substitution for Grings toward the end of the first overtime.

A 40-yard Miyama free kick proved to be quite a bit of trouble for Nadine Angerer. As she waited to catch the ball, Iwashimizu flashed in front of her and she appeared to drop the ball with it rolling off to the side and wide of the goal. Just a minute later an Okoyino da Mbabi shot was blocked by Iwashimizu at the other end. The match headed into the second overtime, with penalty kicks looming.

Just as the large crowd starting singing in an effort to boost the home side, Iwabuchi picked up a loose ball in space touching it to Homare Sawa. Sawa put the ball through into the right side of the penalty area. Maruyama beat Bartusiak to the ball and released a shot from a very steep angle. Angerer guessed near post, but Maruyama went far post and the ball found the side netting just inside the post to put Japan ahead 1-0.

Japan had scored a stunning goal, but now they had to withstand 12 more minutes of German pressure. Almost incredibly, Kaihori appeared to get more calm and in control her penalty area as the pressure increased. In the 109th minute, Behringer hit a hard shot from 20 yards, but Kaihori punched it over the net. A couple of minutes later, Okoyino da Mbabi hit a looping header from 10 yards, but Kaihori tipped that one over the net as well.

Wave after wave of German attacks in the closing minutes, but Kaihori and the Japanese back line were able to withstand the pressure as time ticked away. Time finally ran out on Germany as the goal that everybody thought would come, never did.

While Maruyama's goal was obviously the moment and star of the match, there were many heroes for the Nadeshiko. Kaihori and her back line couldn't have played any better. Homare Sawa was solid in the middle and came back after it appeared an injury would end her day.

For Germany, this has to be a bitter disappointment. They had been prohibitive favorites to win their third in a row and appeared to have the best team. But they just never took advantage of their many chances. While taking nothing away from the Japanese, it is in many ways a shame that Germany are out. They have had great support from huge crowds in Germany.

Japan will now take on the winner of the Sweden-Australia match which will be played tomorrow. And perhaps Japan has gone from being the big underdog against Germany, to being one of the favorites to win it all. With the 2nd ranked Germans out of it and either the #1 USA or #3 Brazil being eliminated tomorrow, they will be the second highest ranked team remaining.