Wednesday’s FIFA Women’s World Cup semifinal marked uncharted territory for England, while for Japan it was a chance to return to the final and defend its title.
Here are my three takeaways from Japan’s 2-1 win over England in Edmonton.
Devastation for Laura Bassett
It was utter heartbreak for Laura Bassett and England after the defender scored a dramatic own goal in injury time to give Japan the win. It’s tough to comprehend what happened in those dying minutes, as Bassett looked to deflect a well-placed Japanese cross over her goal.
The images of an inconsolable Bassett after the final whistle showed us how devastating sports can truly be and how a split-second decision changes everything.
Coach Mark Sampson after the game spoke from his heart and said, “Football at this level is cruel. Moments change matches. Not always does the best team win.”
Regardless of the result in Edmonton, England had a terrific tournament, played with determination and showed the world they’ve got the chops to compete with the best.
Penalty kicks for all
In a mirror image of the other semifinal between Germany and the United States, each side here was awarded a penalty kick.
First, Japan used a rare long ball to sneak in Saori Ariyoshi behind the English back line and she was brought down by Claire Rafferty. Captain Aya Miyama would slot away the penalty in the 33rd minute to give Japan the lead. Much like Alex Morgan a night before, Ariyoshi was fouled on the edge of the 18-yard box, but a penalty was given.
Next, Fara Williams would draw England even on a PK of her own seven minutes later, after Steph Houghton took a tumble in the box via Yuki Ogimi. Houghton went down pretty easy, but given her vantage point, referee Anna-Marie Keighley witnessed a foul.
In total, four penalties were taken in the semis, with three finding the back of the net. While we can argue not all were correct calls, until there’s an option of video replay, human error will still be a factor and a referee can only do so much.
Japan backs into final
Checking the final statistics, Japan did walk away with the lead in possession, but England looked like the stronger side for much of the match.
The Lionesses held the edge in shot attempts, especially early in the second half with a number of opportunities deep in the Japanese third. Jill Scott had the best chance on a clean header after a corner kick, which went just wide in the 64th minute.
With the Americans finding their top gear, the Japanese will have to do the same if they want a chance to defend their title.
NOTES: Defender Saori Ariyoshi was named player of the match… Japan’s attack has been balanced throughout the tournament. Captain Aya Miyama is the only player to score more than one goal… If Japan defeats the United States in Sunday’s final, they will become the first team to win back-to-back Women’s World Cup titles… England will play Germany on Saturday in Edmonton in the third place match… Fara Williams’ goal was her fourth World Cup goal, which ties her with Kelly Smith for the most in England history.