Japan keep title defense alive with win over Dutch

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 24, 2015 12:49 AM

By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Japan completed the quarter-final lineup for the Women's World Cup on Tuesday when the defending champions rolled into the last eight with an impressive 2-1 win over the Netherlands.

The only team in the tournament to have won every game, Japan dominated the Dutch debutantes with their speed and skill and move on to Edmonton and a Saturday meeting with Australia, who booked their last eight spot with an upset of Brazil.

An early strike from Saori Ariyoshi and a 78th minute missile from Mizuho Sakaguchi accounted for Japan's scoring, while Kirsten Van De Ven provided some late drama when her tame injury-time header somehow found its way past a static Ayumi Kaihori.

For the Dutch the loss was double disappointment ending their stay in Canada and a chance to qualify directly for the Rio Olympics soccer tournament.

The top three European teams at the World Cup will qualify for Olympic berths which will go to France and Germany.

England also made the quarter-finals but is ineligible for the Olympics meaning the other European nations that appeared in the World Cup; Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands will now play a mini-tournament in February or March to decide the third spot.

"I would like to say that we ended every attack with a shot. That was the key to success," Japan coach Nori Sasaki told reporters. "I am sorry to say we kept your suspense right until the end.

"I tried to have a stable one-sided game but we always have these tense moments.

"Sorry about that."

Playing their first match in nine days, the Netherlands looked rusty and were fortunate to reach the break just 1-0 down after Japan dominated the opening half, generating chance after chance and hammering 13 shots at the Dutch goal.

But the Netherlands came to life in the second and were close to finding an equalizer in the 75th minute off a wild scramble from a corner, Kaihori blocking the initial goal-bound deflection before Van De Ven had her blast blocked on the line.

Despite the close call the Japanese refused to panic and the 'Nadeshiko' calmly worked the ball down the field with Sakaguchi providing a thundering finish to some superb buildup play that included a cheeky back heel pass and dummy run.

The match against Australia is a repeat of last year's Women's Asian Cup final that the Japanese won 1-0 in Vietnam.

"Australia is a completely different team this time, they have improved quite a lot," said Sasaki. "They are technically better.

"I must say Australia has great potential right now and we need to be aware of that."

(Editing by John O'Brien/Sudipto Ganguly)