Fri, Jul 15, 2011 - Page 20 News List

US, Japan in World Cup showdown

AFP, FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Japan and the US set up a clash for the biggest prize in women’s soccer after seeing off European hopefuls Sweden and France by identical 3-1 scorelines in Wednesday’s semi-finals at the World Cup.

Asian giants Japan emphatically beat Sweden in Frankfurt, while earlier the US used their vast experience to get past France in Moenchengladbach.

Despite their nickname Nadeshiko — a pink flower symbolizing grace and beauty — the Japanese are proving no pushovers, having beaten two-time defending champions Germany in the quarter-finals, and are now through to their first ever final.

Josefine Oqvist had opened for Sweden after 10 minutes, but Japan striker Nahomi Kawasumi netted goals either side of half-time, while captain Homare Sawa capped another impressive display with her fourth goal in five games.

Earlier, Lauren Cheney (9), Abby Wambach (79) and Alex Morgan (82) kept the Americans’ bid for an unprecedented third title after 1991 and 1999 on track. Sonia Bompastor got a goal back for France after 55 minutes.

Despite the French having most shots at goal, it was the Americans who went into the locker room with the half-time advantage after Cheney picked up a Heather O’Reilly cross to tap effortlessly into goal after nine minutes.

However, Bompastor grabbed the equalizer after 55 minutes as her shot flew past a waiting Gaetane Thiney in the box to curl in off the far post and into the net.

The decision to bring on substitute midfielder Megan Rapinoe proved decisive for the Americans.

And for the second straight game, Wambach scored a key header as she rose high to blast in a Cheney corner after 79 minutes with substitute Morgan scoring the third three minutes later.

In Frankfurt, there was no hint of the Japanese domination to come when Oqvist drilled home her shot after 10 minutes past Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.

Her strike took a deflection off the boot of Japan defender Saki Kumagai, which lifted the ball out of Kaihori’s reach, but the Asians were level soon after, having noticeably raised their game in front of the 45,434 crowd.

Midfielder Aya Miyama drilled in a cross and Kawasumi wove her way through several Swedish defenders to scramble the ball home on 19 minutes.

With Sweden failing to put any consistent pressure on the Japan goal, the Nadeshiko put the game beyond their reach with two goals in four minutes.

Sawa headed home on the hour mark, her fourth in five games, with Kawasumi scoring her second when she lobbed into an empty goal from about 40m on 64 minutes to ensure a final showdown with the world’s top team on Sunday.

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