WWC Semi-Final: Japan v England

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Japan has just barely advanced to the World Cup final after a stunning late own goal put England behind with little time to make up the deficit.

What Happened

Japan is through to its second consecutive World Cup final after late drama broke England hearts.

With the score level at 1-1, the game seem destined for extra time when Laura Bassett’s late own goal put Japan through.

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Japan, in its preferred 4-4-2, was named unchanged for the third match in a row.

England opted for a 4-3-3, with the two wide forwards dropping back into a midfield five to help negate the threat of the Japanese playmakers.

The opening quarter was a tense but intriguing affair, with the Japanese struggling to get their passing game going and England offering danger from aerial balls.

Japan traded the first blow just after the half hour mark, after Rafferty got the wrong side of Ariyoshi and brought the Japanese fullback down. It was a clear foul by Rafferty, but the initial contact was clearly outside the box. Miyama converted after an amusingly long stuttering run, and Japan were 1-0 to the good.

However, England soon leveled after benefiting from a dubiously awarded penalty themselves. Steph Houghton was first to a loose ball in the box and went down under Ogimi’s challenge. It was a soft penalty to concede – the England captain went down easily. Fara Williams coolly dispatched the spot-kick with honours well and truly even at half time.

The second half became an increasingly nervous and tentative affair. England dropped deep to deny space for Japan, who uncharacteristically struggled to impose themselves on the game.

Toni Duggan came closest for England after her opportunistic half volley clipped the top of the crossbar.

England, having been so solid throughout the ninety minutes, was given an almighty heartbreak in injury time. Japan broke down the right with seconds remaining and Kawasumi’s cross was diverted into her own net by Laura Bassett, with a swarm of Japanese players closing in behind her.

It was a cruel blow for Bassett and the English, who got their tactics spot on again and seemed certain to take the game to extra time.

The reigning champions march on to play USA in the final.

Standout Performances

The England ladies were all excellent in not allowing the Japanese to excel. Once again, Steph Houghton was immense at the back, and credit to her “clever” play in winning the penalty; a leader who set the example all tournament for the Lionesses, apart from tiny slither of cheating here.

It’s hard to second guess Mark Sampson, but one would expect Toni Duggan has now nailed down a spot in the Welshman’s best 11 in whatever fashion that might be. She was England’s most dangerous player on the day, full of guile and forcing her teams best scoring opportunities with her pace and energy, on a day where the England forwards were to prey upon 50/50 balls.

Talking Points

Controversial penalty decisions appear to now be mundane discussion after the drama of Bassett’s own goal, but they remain the biggest talking points from a match that struggled to come to life. Replays suggest that the referee got both decisions wrong, but fortunately things evened themselves out on this front.

What Next

Japan will head to Vancouver for the final of this wonderful tournament where it will play the United States in a 2011 final rematch. Four years ago it took the lottery of a penalty shootout to find the Japanese as champions, and the tournament’s two best sides could very well end up in the same situation this time around.

The English will take on Germany in the third-place playoff where they will try and reverse the horrid misfortune of the semi-final and take third place back to the Old Country. It’ll be tough for the English to lift after such a shattering defeat, but lift they must as they look to capitalise on the extraordinary work of Mark Sampson and co in Canada.

Needs Work                          

Once again the Japanese left it to the very last minute to find a winner in this game, and that winner ended up coming from a white shirt and not a blue one. They’ll need to arrest their habit of leaving it until the terminus of the match if they want to get past the United States.

Furthermore, England’s ultra-attacking passage midway through the second half had Japan completely rattled. It’s the most attacking football they’ve been up against all tournament and the defence was unable to cope, only being saved by some acrobatic goalkeeping and the cross bar.

Goal of the Match

Laura Bassett, if you ever read this, we’re sorry. Your mind-numbingly devastating own goal takes this award because of the circumstances in which it arrived. A minute or so remaining in a World Cup semi-final and teams locked at one-all, and then you miss your clearance and put it past your own keeper. It was theatrical brilliance, and it had the world on the edge of its collective seat. Seeing your emotional response afterwards broke its collective heart. Again, we’re sorry.

Miss of the Match

Jill Scott hit the miss of the day quite accidentally when she crossed from a fairly shallow position as the English pushed forward. The ball entered orbit and on coming down the crowd took a gasp as it edged closer and closer to the Japanese goal. Defenders and attackers mingled just in front of the goal waiting for it to come down, but they needn’t have been there as the ball bounced on to the cross bar and out. It would have been a ridiculous albeit lucky goal, but it didn’t go in and facilitated one of the most spectacular finishes 12 minutes later.

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