Nadeshiko Japan’s impressive run in the Women’s World Cup concluded with a heart-wrenching 2-1 defeat against Sweden in a gripping quarterfinal showdown held at Auckland’s Eden Park this past Friday.
Sweden seized a 2-0 advantage, but in the 87th minute, substitute Honoka Hayashi breathed new life into Japan’s campaign, igniting a desperate push for an equalizer that lasted through 10 minutes of added time.
Just five days after eliminating the three-time defending champion United States in the round of 16, Sweden demonstrated dominance over Japan for the majority of the match, securing a spot in the semifinals against Spain, which will also take place at the same stadium on Tuesday.
Defender Amanda Ilestedt notched Sweden’s lead with her fourth goal of the tournament in the 32nd minute, while Filippa Angeldal widened the gap with a successful penalty kick shortly after halftime.
Despite Japan’s unwavering determination, the 76th-minute penalty attempt by Riko Ueki missed the mark, and Honoka Hayashi’s goal 11 minutes later proved insufficient to alter the course of the match. Sweden remained resilient under the intense pressure of stoppage time.
With Japan’s departure from the competition, along with the exits of the United States, Germany, and Norway, the tournament bids farewell to all previous champions. This sets the stage for a new name to be etched onto the trophy after the final match in Sydney next weekend.
The game was heralded as the ultimate clash of styles, pitting the precision and finesse of Japan against the rugged and aggressive approach of Sweden.
Under the guidance of Peter Gerhardsson, the Swedish team dictated the tempo against a Japan that adopted a defensive 5-4-1 formation when without the ball. Despite Japan’s history of devastating counterattacks, they were seldom granted the space to execute them effectively as they had in prior rounds.
While Japan harbored hopes of emulating their remarkable 2011 victory, their dreams were thwarted by the very same team that eliminated them in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics two years prior.
The first goal materialized in the 32nd minute from a set-piece situation, precisely where the physically imposing opponents of Japan were expected to exploit their advantage. A free kick inside the box went uncleared, leading to a scramble, and eventually, Amanda Ilestedt managed to poke the ball into the net’s roof after Magdalena Eriksson’s initial attempt was blocked.
Arsenal’s recent signing, Ilestedt, had already showcased her scoring prowess with three goals in the group stage. Remarkably, she remains a contender for the coveted golden boot award, along with current leading scorer Hinata Miyazawa, who amassed five goals before being eliminated from the tournament.