EDMONTON, Alberta – England fell short of making the Women’s World Cup Final on Wednesday despite holding the balance of the attacking play and throwing reigning champion Japan off of its typical possession game.
Japan took the lead against the run of play in the 33rd minute from Aya Miyama’s penalty kick and Fara Williams tied it up in the 40th minute—again from the spot after Steph Houghton was brought down by Yuki Ogimi. Despite some dangerous attacking forays in the second half England lost, 2-1 to Japan in the Women’s World Cup semifinal from a stoppage-time own goal by defender Laura Bassett, who inadvertently cleared a dangerous Japanese cross off of Karen Bardsley’s crossbar and into the net.
After the game, Bassett was inconsolable and left the field in tears. But Japan head coach Norio Sasaki saw things differently.
“I do not feel badly for Laura Bassett because if she didn’t clear it, Yuki Ogimi was waiting…and we could have created the chance to score,” Sasaki said through a translator.
This writer felt that Ogimi was ahead of the ball—video reviews confirm the impression—if Bassett had not intercepted it and would not have touched the ball, but Bassett made the right play in trying to halt a dangerous Japanese rush at goal. Unfortunately for her, the ball hit her knee and ricocheted towards the goal. Ironically, Ogimi and Bassett played together last season at Chelsea before they both transferred during in the offseason. (England coach Mark Sampson called Laura Bassett “a hero…Laura embodies drive, passion, never-say-die [attitude] and playing for the team.)
Sasaki felt that the Nadeshiko did not move well against England, but “the goal was to go to the final. The players did what they had to….England played in a simple manner, aided by set pieces.” He later seemed to begrudgingly admit that England “moved more than expected.”
He said that he told the team at halftime that “England was taking the initiative. Don’t be afraid of errors; we need to create chances.” Sasaki admitted that he had planned to insert Homare Sawa, who is playing in a record sixth World Cup, and Yuri Kawamura in defense for the 30-minute extra time period had it happened.
Sasaki said that his team felt more pressure to get to the final because they wanted to have Kozue Ando return to Vancouver and be with the team—another example of classic Japanese team solidarity. Ando suffered a fractured ankle in the first group match against Switzerland and went home to Japan to recover. The team has since had a teddy bear on the bench that dons Ando’s jersey.
Sasaki said that he hopes the final against the U.S. on Sunday in Vancouver will be exciting, like the 2011 final that went to penalty kicks was, in order to help to develop the game around the globe. Japan will have to play better than they did against England if they have any hope of defending their 2011 Women’s World Cup title, particularly since the U.S. played at a very high level in their semifinal win against Germany yesterday in Montreal. Sunday’s final will end a very competitive and interesting World Cup, the first ever with 24 teams.