Saitama – Nadeshiko Japan showed spirit and fightback against a bigger and stronger opponent.
But neither was enough on Friday night as Asako Takakura’s side crashed out of the Tokyo 2020 women’s soccer tournament with a 3-1 defeat to reigning Sweden, ending the host nation’s hope of a medal to inspire interest ahead of the start of its new professional league.
“If you look at the goals we gave up in the penalty area, and what we couldn’t do in front of the Sweden goal, that’s both the physical aspect as well as needing just a little more quality,” Japan head coach Asako Takakura said. “We need to play more decisively to score those goals.”
Faced with an early deficit after Magdalena Eriksson’s seventh-minute opener, Japan drew even in the 24th minute when AC Milan midfielder Yui Hasegawa found INAC Kobe’s Mina Tanaka in open space with a through pass and the 27-year-old whipped the ball past Hedvig Lindahl.
But after the first half ended 1-1, Sweden established its attacking plan and overwhelmed Japan, with talismanic striker Stina Blackstenius restoring her team’s lead in the 53rd minute through a superb strike inside the near post and Kosovare Asllani putting the game away from the penalty spot in the 68th.
“As players, as a team, we did everything we could in this game,” Japan captain Saki Kumagai said. “We wanted to give kids dreams about playing for Nadeshiko Japan. For it to end like this is really sad.”
Sofia Jakobsson’s second-minute run on goal, which ended in a shot wide left, indicated that it was going to be a long night for Japan’s defenders.
Just five minutes later, defender Eriksson’s header caught Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita flat-footed and it was clear that Sweden was looking to establish dominance early — just as it did against the United States in their opening group game.
With confidence that had been absent before the equalizer, Japan pushed forward in search of a go-ahead goal — and seemed on the cusp of doing so when Tanaka appeared to have been fouled in the penalty area by Amanda Ilestedt. But as ace striker Mana Iwabuchi waited at the spot, referee Lucila Venegas walked over to the video review booth before eventually waving the foul off.
Sweden took advantage of its players’ height advantage — a full 11 centimeters over Japan’s players on average — and shut down the reigning Asian champion on both sides of the pitch, struggling at times to neutralize the Nadeshiko passing game but preventing them from finding the chances on goal they were waiting for.
“(Japan is) a really strong team, they have a really passing quality, a lot of good movement with the ball,” Sweden defender Hanna Glas said. “It was tough when they also scored but I feel like we got better control of our attack in the second half, and we were really dangerous in the transitions and managed to score the goal.”
Asllani’s penalty came after Nadeshiko midfielder Narumi Miura’s handball in the corner of the box was spotted by VAR and confirmed by Venegas.
The defeat marks a second straight international tournament without a medal for Japan, which exited the 2019 Women’s World Cup in the Round of 16 with a loss to the Netherlands.
Kumagai, one of two Nadeshiko players who participated in the team’s 2011 Women’s World Cup triumph in Germany, admitted that after a decade was no longer the rest of the world chasing Japan, but the other way around.
“If I think about how we lost in France in 2019, and how we lost today, I think there were things we could have done to play a better game, or control it, or to be able to threaten our opponents so that we were able to get the results we wanted,” she said. “I think that’s the difference we’re seeing between our ability and the rest of the world.”
The win gave Sweden a slight lead over Japan in head-to-head matchups, improving the country’s record to six wins, three draws and five losses. They will face Australia’s Matildas at International Stadium Yokohama on Monday with a place in the Aug. 6 final at stake.
Japans’ new WE League, featuring 11 clubs, will launch its inaugural season on Sept. 12.
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