Japan saunter into final

Japan saunter into final
By Eurosport

14/07/2011 at 04:38Updated 14/07/2011 at 14:37

Japan reached the World Cup final for the first time in their history after producing a wonderfully stylish and ruthlessly dominant performance to defeat Sweden 3-1 in Frankfurt.

Having shocked host nation Germany in the quarter-final, Japan again caught the eye with a magnificent display despite going behind to an early goal from Josefine Oqvist as they were punished for a sloppy mistake.

That effectively marked the end of Sweden's active participation in the contest - they had just two further shot shots in a horrible evening for Thomas Dennerby's side - as Japan's imperious passing saw them impose themselves on the game in impressive fashion.

Nahomi Kawasumi, unexpectedly included in the starting XI, rounded off a lovely move to equalise before the gulf between the sides opened up in the second half with captain Homare Sawa heading Japan into a 59th-minute lead.

It was Kawasumi who applied the coup de grace with a delicious lob from long range after 64 minutes, ensuring that Japan deservedly claimed their place in the final against USA.

Japan have developed a reputation for slick, patient passing so it was a real surprise to see the opening goal come about as a result of a sloppy pass, and from none other than playmaker Sawa, who was so influential in the win over Germany in the quarter-finals.

Sawa's square pass rolled into the path of Oqvist after ten minutes and the forward rode a challenge from Azusa Iwashimizu and drove into the box before firing an excellent shot back across goal and past Ayumi Kaihori, thanks in part to a deflection off the boot of Saki Kumagai.

Japan retained their faith in their passing game though and responded on 19 minutes. Shinobu Ohno was the catalyst for a fine move as she spun neatly in the centre of the pitch and spread the ball wide to Aya Miyama, who delivered a fantastic first-time cross.

Kawasumi was pushed from behind as she prepared to head home but saw the ball bounce off her shin and between the legs of Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl to bring Japan back level.

Japan were comprehensively winning the midfield battle with their intricate approach and Sweden found themselves constantly repelling a sea of blue shirts. Kawasumi went close again with a firm drive and Miyama had an excellent free-kick turned round the post as Norio Sasaki's side finished the half firmly on top.

Little changed after the break, and Ohno almost made it 2-1 inside 60 seconds as she struck the bar with an outrageous effort from 30 yards, allowing the ball to bounce twice before unleashing a fearsome effort that had Lindahl in trouble.

Still Sweden were unable to cope with their opponents' superior passing and Japan took a deserved lead after 59 minutes. Miyama caused problems with another fine delivery from the left and after Lindahl flapped at the ball, Sawa held her nerve to head in from close range.

Within 64 minutes it was 3-1 as Kawasumi scored a goal worthy of gracing any stage. After Lindahl rushed off her line to deal with a through-ball and found herself stranded, Kawasumi teed herself up with one touch before executing a glorious volleyed lob from 35 yards.

Sweden were sinking without trace and their effort was truly lamentable. Japan, though, sent a clear signal to USA ahead of the final.