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 on Friday, leaving the tournament without a former winner in the last four.
Five days after ousting four-time champions the United States in the last 16, the Swedes dominated the 2011 title winners for most of the evening to set up a semi-final against Spain at the same stadium on Tuesday.
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 firm under 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 …”
The Swedes, charged with confidence after dethroning the reigning champion Americans on Sunday, tore into their opponents from the start, swamping the midfield and clearly rattling Japan.
Stina Blackstenius should have put them ahead in the 25th minute when she got in front of Japan’s defensive rock Saki Kumagai only to poke her shot wide from point-blank range.
Japan responded with their best attacks of the game but Sweden took the lead from a free kick just after the half-hour mark.
The Nadeshiko were unable to clear their lines as the ball pinged around the box and centre half Ilestedt buried it into the net with the fifth Swedish shot in the sequence.
It was only the second goal Japan had conceded in New Zealand and the first time they had been behind but they were unable to break the stranglehold the Swedes had on them.
Sweden captain Kosovare Asllani almost doubled the lead just before the break but was denied by a combination of the fingertips of Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita and the post.
Yamashita was quickly in action again at the start of the second half to tip away a Johanna Kaneryd shot but Fuka Nagano handled the ball from the ensuing corner and Angeldal made no mistake from the penalty spot.
Japan looked a pale imitation of the side that had romped in the quarter-finals and got their first attempt on goal in the 63rd minute.
They stuck to their task, however, and had a chance to cut the deficit when Ueki was bowled over in the penalty box by Madelen Janogy in the 75th minute.
The striker took the spot kick herself but was only able to clang the ball against the woodwork with her follow-up header going well over the bar.
Teenager Aoba Fujino smacked a free kick against the bar with little more than three minutes on the clock and Hayashi lashed the ball into the net from Japan’s next attacking move to set up a frenetic final 13 minutes but the Swedes held on.