Two goals by impact player Nahomi Kawasumi
We can honestly report that the craft of football won this match. The Nadeshiko outclassed a physically superior Swedish team with their sophisticated possession, precision passing, and end product. There is no shame comparing them to Barcelona and Sweden to Man Utd because it resembled the Champions League final in scoreline as well as in the contrasting styles of football.
Like Xavi, Busquets, and Iniesta for Barca; Homare Sawa, Kozue Ando, and Aya Miyama painted pretty triangles of one touch football as Japan swamped the Swedish goal putting the goalie Hedvig Lindahl under tremendous pressure. Somewhat similar to Edwin Van Der Sar who did not have the best performance between the sticks for Utd, she too cracked, her weak parry of a cross falling to Sawa who lost in the melee of tall Swedish defenders improvised heading the ball in for Japan’s second goal.
Lindahl minutes later was caught out of position as her weak clearance fell invitingly to Kawasumi who showed wonderful touch to lob the ball into an open goal. It was the midfielder’s second goal, the first coming off a Miyama cross which took the Swedish defense by surprise with Kawasumi injecting herself in front of Josefine Oqvist to bundle the ball between Lindahl’s legs for Japan’s equalizer.
Sweden’s first and only chance resulted in an Oqvist goal after the Swedish striker latched onto a Sawa mispass and then blew past the Japanese defense to finish like Rooney. It was a start that flattered to deceive because for the next 80+ minutes Sweden did not have any other meaningful attempt at goal. Lotta Schelin was completely shut out as the Swedes struggled to mount anything coherent. There was nothing remotely resembling the team that managed to get to the semi-finals unbeaten.
We can shake our heads in disbelief and wonder why Sweden with an average height advantage of 4″ over Japan could not do better on set pieces. It was Jonathan Wilson who observed that Barca’s possession football is a type of defense with its purpose to keep the ball away from the opponent. This is what the USA should bear in mind when facing an undersized Japan. The other thing to be heeded when Japan does lose the ball it sets about immediately regaining possession. But they’re not just married to this philosophy as Miyama and Shinobu Ohno have shown to be extremely dangerous long distance threats.
This is a victory to be savoured by football purists. For those less invested in such matters this is a uplifting win for the Japanese. The past months have been extremely draining as the nation rebuilds after the devastating earthquakes and faces a long term nuclear nightmare. There is much to celebrate in the human spirit here.