July 13, 2011

Nadeshiko Japan Over Sweden 3-1 to the Finals

Japan played a dominating possession game to defeat Sweden 3-1 in the World Cup semifinal before a crowd of over 45,000 in Frankfurt. The victory set the Nadeshiko up for a finals match against the United States on Sunday. The US had advanced earlier after a 3-1 win over France.

Sweden's bad news started even before the semifinal match had begun. Caroline Seger aggravated a calf injury in warmups and was scratched from the lineup. With her normal replacement, Nilla Fischer, out because of yellow card accumulation, Thomas Dennerby went with Marie Hammarstrom at one central midfield position.

Norio Sasaki made the first change to his starting lineup since this World Cup began, opting for Nahomi Kawasumi at one forward position over Yuki Nagasato. Kawasumi would make her coach look like a genius before the day was done.

After a ten minute feeling out process between the two teams, Sweden struck first and once again, it was a matter of taking advantage of what was given to them. A Homare Sawa pass in the midfield may have been a bit too soft and Josefine Oqvist stepped in front of it and headed for the Japanese goal. She dribbled to the left side of the box, where she released a brilliant shot that beat Ayumi Kaihori and found the right side netting. Sweden led 1-0.

But for most of the game, Sweden looked listless on offense, apparently missing Seger, their captain. They just never could seem to get comfortable and with Japan controlling possession for most of the match, never really did get a chance to set up shop as they had in their four previous matches. Lotta Schelin was held well in check for the entire match.

Even though Japan had fallen behind early, they continued to do the things they are best at. Keep possession, pass the ball with accuracy, and be patient. They held possession for long periods of time, methodically working the ball up the field.

In the 18th minute, Aya Miyama sent in a cross from the left side to the back post. Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl started to come out to intercept the cross, then thought better of it, retreating to the goal. Kawasumi's and Oqvist's legs seemed to meet the ball almost simultaneously and the ball deflected through Lindahl's legs and into the net to tie the match. Kawasumi was credited with the goal.

Japan nearly scored again in the 28th minute as Kozue Ando got an uncontested shot from 12 yards, but it was right at Lindahl. In the 33rd minute, Miyama's free kick from 24 yards was heading toward the left post, with Lindahl deflecting it wide just to make sure. The half ended with the two teams tied at one.

Just a minute into the 2nd half, Shinobu Ohno nearly caught Lindahl off her line with her blast from 30 yards, but the ball skimmed the top of the crossbar and went over.

Lindahl had further problems in the 59th minute. Aya Sameshima sent a dangerous ball into the six from the left side. It appeared that Lindahl possibly could have caught the ball, but instead tried to push the ball away, doing so very awkwardly. The ball bounced into the air to Homare Sawa who nodded it over the head of defender Charlotte Rohlin and behind Lindahl who was out of the goal. It was Sawa's fourth goal of the World Cup and Nadeshiko had their first lead of the match.

Japan put the match out of reach just five minutes later. Miyama sent a long ball forward from the center line with Ando charging toward it. Lindahl came out nearly 25 yards to clear, kicking the ball away. Unfortunately for the Swedish keeper, the ball went right to Kawasumi, whose long lob from 32 yards went well over Lindahl's head and into the now vacant net to make it 3-1. It was Kawasumi's second goal of the match.

With Sweden having little of possession and not creating chances, it was too much of a hill for them to climb on this day. Dennerby attempted to insert new life into the match by sending in Sofia Jakobsson, Jessica Landstrom, and Antonia Goransson later in the match, but nothing much came of it. One can never truly measure how much missing personnel hurts a team, but Sweden certainly missed Caroline Seger.

Japan played out the final 25 minutes in typical fashion, maintaining possession and looking very good doing so. Kaihori and her back line never allowed Sweden to get chances in close. The Japanese keeper is visibly gaining in confidence with each match and she now has only one remaining for the championship.

So it will be the two teams of destiny in the finals and quite a contrast at that. The precision-minded, patient Nadeshiko of Japan against the never-say-die, gritty United States. It should make for quite a final on Sunday.