Japan are firming as legitimate challengers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup after cashing in on Norwegian errors to book a place in the quarter-finals.
Hinata Miyazawa iced a 3-1 win for Nadeshiko on Saturday night in Wellington with her fifth goal of the tournament, putting her on top of the golden boot race.
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Norway only had themselves to blame for their round of 16 exit, making awful defensive blunders in both halves.
Ingrid Syrstad Engen scored an early own goal, deflecting Miyazawa’s cross agonisingly past Aurora Mikalsen, who scrambled but could only watch the ball trickle inside the net.
After equalising through Guro Reiten’s fine header, Norway then succumbed to Japan’s hyper-press.
In the 50th minute, Vilde Boe Risa laid on a hospital pass in the box which Risa Shimzu picked off, taking a touch before scoring an easy go-ahead goal for Japan.
Japan beat Norway 3-1 to reach the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals in a clash between two former champions. Credit: AAP
After resisting Norway’s pressure for a second equaliser, Miyazawa then raced onto a superb defence-splitting pass by Aoba Fujino, and the game was done.
Nadeshiko fully merited their win, controlling the tempo all night in the battle of the former World Cup winners.
Japan, the 2011 champions, ran rings around their Scandinavian opponents, who triumphed in 1995.
When Norway did score – the first goal Japan have conceded so far this tournament – it came against the run of play.
Norway looked most dangerous with the ball at Caroline Graham Hansen’s feet, particularly with former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg left on the bench until the 74th minute.
It was Hegeberg’s first appearance for Norway since their opening night loss to New Zealand.
Ayaka Yamashita then pulled out a contender for save of the tournament to deny Karina Saevik’s header by just a few centimetres: another sign it wasn’t to be Norway’s night.
Hege Riise’s side face a likely inquest following their exit after their opening night loss to New Zealand sparked infighting.
Japan, in contrast, look a well-drilled team working in harmony.
Their victory means they advance to a meeting with either the United States or Sweden in Auckland on Friday.
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