Sweden will face Spain in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup after beating Japan 2-1 in a thrilling encounter on Friday.
Defender Amanda Ilestedt continued her remarkable goalscoring run to break the deadlock in the first half with her fourth goal of the tournament, before Filippa Angeldal’s second-half penalty doubled Sweden’s lead.
Riko Ueki missed a penalty late on for Japan, but Honoka Hayashi’s goal with three minutes of regulation time remaining ensured a heart-pounding finish.
Despite sustained pressure throughout 10 minutes of stoppage time, Japan was unable to find a second goal as Sweden held on to reach a fifth Women’s World Cup semifinal.
It was certainly an underwhelming end to the tournament for a Japan team that had thrilled at this World Cup and one that many had down as the favorite to win this tie.
The disappointment of defeat was etched onto the faces of the Japan squad, many of them reduced to tears at the full-time whistle. Winners in 2011, the team’s performances in Australia and New Zealand had given fans hope of claiming a second World Cup title.
However, an experienced Sweden team proved to be a step too far and Japan’s elimination means there is will be a first-time winner of the competition, another indicator of the recent growth of the women’s game.
Two games from glory
This Sweden team has regularly had to deal with the pressure of being labeled the country’s ‘Golden Generation.’
The squad came so close to living up to that moniker two years ago, but lost to Canada in the gold medal match at the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games.
Boasting experience and star names from some of Europe’s biggest clubs, Sweden was always going to be among the favorites to lift the trophy Down Under and the team has continued to improve with each game.
The penalty shootout win over the United States in the round of 16 would have given the Swedes a huge confidence boost – they certainly played that way against Japan, dominating their opponent from the opening minute.
Ilestedt gave Sweden the lead its early pressure merited just after the half hour mark, poking the ball home after pinball in the box following a corner kick.
Those attacking instincts have now helped the defender score four goals at this World Cup, putting her just one behind Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa in the race for the tournament’s Golden Boot award for the top goalscorer.
It had been all Sweden so far, with Japan – now trailing for the first time all tournament – unable to even register a shot after 30 minutes.
But rather than spark Japan into action, the team seemed to retreat further into its shell against a Sweden team that was now brimming with confidence.
Midfielder Kosovare Asllani was a whisker away from doubling Sweden’s lead just before half time, but her strike was tipped brilliantly onto the post by Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita, who strained every sinew to ensure the score remained 1-0.
For Japan, things went from bad to worse almost immediately after the break.
It was another corner kick that gave Japan trouble and again Ilestedt was involved, this time flicking a ball into the box that struck the outstretched arm of Fuka Nagano.
After initially missing the incident, referee Esther Staubli awarded the penalty after a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review and Angeldal made no mistake from the spot.
Trailing by two goals, it took Japan until the 70th minute to finally come to life. Aoba Fujino found space in the box and fired a shot towards the bottom corner, but Zećira Mušović got down quickly to palm the ball away to safety.
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But Japan’s pressure continued to build and the team was given a route back into the match when Madelen Janogy tripped Riko Ueki in the penalty area. Ueki took the penalty, but smashed her effort onto the crossbar.
Japan hit the woodwork again – the crossbar and post in one from Fujino’s free-kick – before finally breaking through Sweden’s defense as Honoka Hayashi pounced on a loose ball to fire past Mušović.
Hayashi’s goal ensured a grandstand finish, but Japan had left it far too late.