Sweden held off a late Japan fightback to reach the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup for the fifth time with a 2-1 win at Eden Park, leaving the tournament without a former winner in the last four.
Five days after knocking out four-time champions the United States in the last 16, the Swedes dominated the 2011 champions for most of Friday evening to set up a semi-final against Spain at the same stadium on Tuesday.
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Defender Amanda Ilestedt gave Sweden the lead with her fourth goal of the tournament in the 32nd minute with Filippa Angeldal adding the second from the penalty spot just after the break.
Japan never gave up the fight but Riko Ueki missed a 76th-minute penalty and her fellow substitute Honoka Hayashi’s goal 11 minutes later proved too little, too late as Sweden held out for the win.
Japan’s run in the World Cup ended with 15 goals, more than any team left in the tournament. Hinata Miyazawa finished with five of those goals to lead the Golden Boot race, matching the team record set by Homare Sawa in Japan’s 2011 title run.
The game was a clash of styles from the start: Third-ranked Sweden were more physical while 11th-ranked Japan were more technical.
Stina Blackstenius beat a defender Saki Kumagai and faced Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita one-on-one in the 25th minute but her shot went wide.
After Ilestedt’s goal, Kosovare Asllani nearly doubled the lead in the 42nd minute, but her blast from the top of the box was pushed away by a diving Yamashita.
Angeldal’s penalty appeared to rattle the Japanese, who struggled against the taller and more athletic Swedes. Japan didn’t get a shot off until the 63rd minute. Japan had scored at least twice in each of their previous games but had never come back from down two goals in World Cup play.
The Japanese finally made a late comeback and seriously pressured Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic, who is fresh off a World Cup-record 11 saves in the win over the United States.
Riko Ueki’s penalty attempt for Japan in the 76th minute hit the crossbar and bounced clear of the goal, but Musovic was finally beaten in the 86th minute when substitute Honoka Hayashi cut Sweden’s lead to 2-1. But Sweden withstood some immense stoppage-time pressure to progress.
“It’s wonderful, obviously,” Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson told Swedish radio.
“The game had everything. In terms of performance, we had our best of the tournament. It got very exciting, Japan are one of the best teams in the tournament.”
At the Tokyo Olympics, Sweden eliminated Japan on home soil in the quarter-finals. Sweden advanced to the gold medal game but lost to Canada.
The Swedes have never won a title at either the World Cup or the Olympics.