PRE – Time to find out who the U.S. will be staring down on Sunday. Japan entered this tournament as reasonable favorites to make it back to the final thanks to a kind draw and have calmly dealt with everything in their path, even if it hasn’t quite been a demolition job for the holders on the way. England reaching the final would be one of the great shocks of women’s soccer considering how poor they looked against top sides in the run-up to the tournament and the feeble 1-0 loss to France in their opener. They’ve improved by leaps and bounds though and will be confident of causing another shock. They have to avoid the slow start that has plagued them all tournament long save for the blitz of Canada in the quarterfinal.
1′ – England so nearly have the lead after less than a minute! Taylor posts up to receive a long ball and flicks it beyond Kumagai, who heads it right into the path fo the forward. Taylor takes a stride or two and volleys far post, just wide of the goal.
5′ – Bronze goes on a surging run from midfield, getting all the way to the endline and crossing into the box, forcing Kumagai to put it behind for a corner. England play it short despite the size advantage. Arrrgh.
8′ – Bronze gets a chance to drive in a free kick from the flank, but Japan head away confidently. So much for the size disadvantage.
20′ – OK, it’s not been a thriller thus far. England lump a free kick into the box, but Kaihori rises high and claims easily. Maybe they should go back to playing them short…
21′ – Ogimi dribbles in midfield before sliding wide to Miyama. She tries a couple of cuts centrally before getting low bridged just outside the box. Sameshima runs onto the loose ball but whacks it well over.
22′ – Miyama drives a free kick in the box, where it evades everyone before bouncing dangerously inside the six. Bardsley looks to be paralyzed with indecision as it bounces over as she runs into the post. Flag goes up anyway.
23′ – Bronze heaves a long throw into the box, where it’s headed around briefly before Duggan swivels and hits a powerful half-volley that sails over the bar.
27′ – Duggan, who’s looked lively thus far, slaloms between two Japanese defenders before fighting for the ball in the area while getting to the endline. Her cross is right at Kaihori though.
28′ – Duggan. Again. Scott crosses to the English forward, somehow lightly marked, and she tries an awkward volley that is well off-target.
31′ – PENALTY – Japan (Miyama) – Japan chips a long, diagonal ball to Ariyoshi who cuts inside and is barged over by Rafferty in the box. Rafferty got toasted by Ariyoshi’s pace, but it looks like the contact was outside the box. AGAIN. The full-back is booked. Miyama takes an eternity with the run-up before dispatching low and left with power and Bardsley going the wrong way.
39′ – PENALTY – England (Williams) – England are level, but that’s an absolutely shocking dive from Houghton. England loft in a corner, well past the penalty spot into a scrum. Nobody gets convincing contact on it, and as the ball rolls on the floor, Houghton falls and rolls theatrically to draw the whistle. Fara Williams goes low, hard, and left. It’s unstoppable, though Kaihori goes the right way.
HT – Somehow, there’s no stoppage time though we’ve had two penalties. It’s been a match of two controversial penalty calls, neither one of which should’ve been a spot kick, though for two different reasons. England have looked very threatening through Duggan and Taylor up top but are perhaps missing just a bit of the connective element. Japan are as subdued as ever but are far from being overrun. Everything on the table still.
48′ – Chaos in the box, as Bronze’s long throw is headed back and bounces back towards Kaihori, eventually being kicked straight into the air, where it falls right to the keeper’s grateful hands.
52′ – Bizarre defensive mistake from England, as Japan hit a hopeful long ball that bounces in front of Bassett. She tries to play a backpass to Bardsley but overcooks it and sees it go behind for a corner. England clear the corner. Seconds later, Japan get it to Ogimi in the box, but Bardsley rushes off her line to slide and take it off her feet.
54′ – Free kick from center circle for England. It’s deep and towards the six, with Bronze fighting off Iwashimizu and putting a head on it but placing it on the roof of the goal. This one’s been dominated by set pieces.
54′ – The referee has not had an impressive match, and not booking Rafferty as she comes through from behind on Naho, way late, is another desultory decision.
60′ – SUB – England bring off Taylor for Ellen White. That’s a big decision, and you figure Sampson might get pilloried for it if his side lose considering Taylor’s been the most threatening player up top this tournament for the Lionesses. To be truthful though, Duggan’s been the more dangerous forward on the day.
62′ – Duggan has a cannon for a leg. She rattles the bar from the edge of the area. It bounces clear, and Japan survive.
64′ – England in the ascendency. Sameshima coughs it up, letting England play a quick set of passes to White just inside the arc. Japan stand off her, letting her turn and whip a shot towards the far post. Kaihori does well to push it around the post at full stretch. Kaihori’s punch of the corner is awkward but pragmatic, with the one-fisted smash putting it where nobody happens to be. England get it back and cross is blocked for a corner. Scott goes up and heads the corner wide from seven yards. The holders are reeling.
70′ – SUB – Mana Iwabuchi on for Ohno for Japan. Iwabuchi’s had the magic touch for the Asian side thus far. Will history repeat itself?
72′ – That’s the type of impact Iwabuchi can have. Miyama gets it on the near sideline at midfield and dishes to the super sub who beats Bronze to the endline before crossing back towards a tangle of bodies at the six. England get onto it though and clear.
73′ – Iwabuchi is causing havoc in the English defense since coming on. She gets it on the near flank and shucks a tackle from Williams as she gets in the box. Iwabuchi finds just enough space to arrow a shot near post but puts it wide.
76′ – SUB – Bronze has been cramping and getting treated off the pitch, prompting Sampson to bring in Alex Scott in her place.
76′ – Sakaguchi goes up and heads a Miyama cross at the six, sending it just a bit wide of the post. Japan has found a second wind.
78′ – Wild. Rafferty lofts a deep cross from the far flank and watches it bounce onto the bar and behind.
85′ – Chapman heads a long free kick from Houghton wide. Extra time looms.
86′ – SUB – Karen Carney comes on to replace Fara Williams. Definite attacking move for the Three Lionesses.
89′ – Nervy moment for Japan, as Houghton delivers a free kick from midfield that has Kaihori tempting fate with a punch that doesn’t go anywhere. Her defense bails her out though, clearing it out.
90′ + 2′ – GOAL – Japan (Bassett own goal) – Oh my God. Naho gets it wide on the far flank and bends a speculative cross in. She aims for the stride of Ogimi just inside the area but instead finds Bassett, who tries to poke away. She only succeeds in chipping Bardsley, who’s about five yards off her line, with the ball bouncing off the underside of the bar and across the line. Stunner.
FT – An utterly astonishing ending to an enthralling match. England will have thought they deserved to advance given the amount of offensive opportunities they created, putting Japan on the ropes for more than a small amount of time in this one. But the inability to deliver the knockout punch haunted them in the end, with the cruel own goal sealing their fate. Japan survives again but will be massive underdogs going into the final.