THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Homare Sawa made up for a huge error by scoring the go-ahead goal and Japan advanced to the World Cup final with a 3-1 victory over Sweden on Wednesday.
Surprise call-up Nahomi Kawasumi had two goals for Japan, which will face the United States in Sunday’s championship. It’s the first World Cup final for the rising soccer power.
Josefine Oqvist scored for Sweden, which allowed three unanswered goals.
In a battle of Japan’s fine skills against the thrust and hustle of Sweden, the match turned in the second half when Kawasumi caught Hedvig Lindahl off her line and lobbed it over her from about 110 feet away for the final score, one of the best in a tournament full of excellent strikes.
The Japanese players always had more on their minds than their next game in the marquee event for women’s soccer. In the wake of the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, they wanted to provide a feel-good story for fans back home.
And they came through.
Following their latest win, they again unfurled a huge banner that said “To our Friends Around the World — Thank You for Your Support,” referring to the global outpouring of aid after the tsunami that left nearly 23,000 dead or missing.
When Japan faced favored Germany in the quarterfinals, coach Norio Sasaki showed her players heart-tugging pictures from the victims of the tsunami shortly before the game to give them more resolve.
He didn’t need the tactic Wednesday; his team had enough determination to overcome an early mistake by one of its best players.
Team captain Sawa made an uncharacteristic error in the 10th and fed a defensive pass straight to Oqvist. She gladly took it, ran through the defense and got a lucky deflection to bury the ball past goalie Ayumi Kaihori.
Many in the crowd of 45,434 at Commerzbank Arena thought Sweden would use its vast experience to control the play once it got the lead.
Turns out Japan was ready.
Japan tied it nine minutes later when Kawasumi somehow got a foot on a cross from star Aya Miyama and pushed it through the legs of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
Sawa, still a standout in her fifth World Cup, then got redemption in the 59th minute. Lindahl missed a ball in the goalmouth, and the 32-year-old Sawa was there to head it home.
After Sweden went in front, Japan methodically got back into the game with the short passing combinations that have become its trademark.
Sweden responded by trying to send deep balls to star striker Lotta Schelin, but she often fell into Japan’s offsides trap. ♦
Japan plays the United States in the World Cup Final on Sunday. The game will be played at 11:45 a.m. PT on ESPN. The third place game between Sweden and France will be played Saturday at 8:30 a.m. PT on ESPN2.