Amanda Ilestedt scored her fourth goal of the tournament and Filippa Angeldal netted a penalty as Sweden hung on to beat Japan 2-1 on Friday and set up a Women’s World Cup semi-final with Spain.
Centre-back Ilestedt poked in just after the half-hour mark at Eden Park in Auckland to give Sweden a deserved lead and leave Japan trailing for the first time at the World Cup.
Angeldal made it 2-0 from a penalty seven minutes into the second half before Japan attempted a comeback, with Riko Ueki missing a spot-kick and Honoka Hayashi pulling one back with three minutes left of normal time.
Sweden then survived a late storm to advance to the semi-finals for the third time in four World Cups.
The exit of the 2011 champions Japan, following the United States, Germany and Norway, means there are no former winners left and a brand-new name will appear on the trophy after next weekend’s final in Sydney.
If Sweden, runners-up in 2003, are to get there they will have to win a semi-final in Auckland next Tuesday against Spain, who defeated the Netherlands 2-1 earlier Friday in Wellington.
This was billed as the ultimate clash of footballing styles, between a slick and clinical Japan and a more rugged and aggressive Sweden.
Peter Gerhardsson’s Swedish team took the game to their opponents, who sat back in a 5-4-1 out of possession but were rarely given the space to spring forward on the counterattack like they had done to such devastating effect in previous rounds.
Japan had started to dream of a run to match their remarkable triumph in 2011 but instead find themselves eliminated at the hands of the same team that beat them in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
The opener arrived in the 32nd minute following a set-piece, exactly the scenario where the Japanese had been expected to struggle against their more physically imposing opponents.
The Nadeshiko failed to clear their lines as a free-kick dropped in their box, and the ball eventually fell to Ilestedt to stab into the roof of the net after her centre-back partner Magdalena Eriksson had an effort blocked.
Ilestedt, who has just signed for Arsenal, had already netted three times in the group phase and is, remarkably, a contender to win the golden boot with current leading scorer Hinata Miyazawa, on five goals, now out.
Miyazawa had little influence on this game and Sweden could have scored again before half-time, with captain Kosovare Asllani having a shot turned onto the post by the outstretched fingertips of Ayaka Yamashita.
The Japan goalkeeper then produced another fine save two minutes after the restart to push a Johanna Kaneryd shot behind for a corner.
Yet it was that corner which led to the second goal. The delivery from the right struck the fist of Fuka Nagano in her own box, and the Liverpool player’s offence was spotted by the referee after a review.
Manchester City midfielder Angeldal stepped up to convert the spot-kick, sending Yamashita the wrong way.
Japan did not give up and won a penalty in the 76th minute when substitute Ueki went down under the slightest of contact from Madelen Janogy.
It was a soft award, but Ueki could not convert, smashing her kick off the underside of the bar and out.
The woodwork rescued Sweden again in the 87th minute when Aoba Fujino’s free-kick remarkably hit the bar, rebounded off the back of goalkeeper Zecira Musovic and struck the post.
Yet seconds later Japan had a goal back as Eriksson failed to deal with Kiko Seike’s centre and Hayashi pounced to score, setting up a frantic finale.
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