Nadeshiko Japan’s luck ran out in the quarter-finals.

Japan lost 1-2 to Sweden in the quarter-finals of the Australia-New Zealand Women’s World Cup 2023 at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, on 11 November. The Japanese, 스포츠토토 who were hailed as “the most complete team at this World Cup” after winning all four of their matches from the group stage to the round of 16, scoring 14 goals and conceding just one, were unable to get past the Swedes. Twelve years after the 2011 tournament in Germany, where they wrote the ‘underdog’ fairytale, their quest for the top spot ended midway through the quarter-finals.

They struggled from the start. It was Sweden who were the first to dominate all over the pitch with their structured positioning and superior physicality, while Japan’s build-up, based on short passes and organised movement, was thwarted time and time again. Japan were heavily out-shot on the day, 34-54, and didn’t get their first shot on target until the 18th minute of the second half.

Sweden’s Filippa Angeldahl, second from right, celebrates with teammates after scoring her team’s second goal. Auckland/AP

It was a set piece in the 32nd minute that lifted the game. A free kick from Sweden’s Kosovari Aslani (AC Milan) bounced off Japan’s Ayaka Yamashita (Kobe), followed by a series of shots from Sweden in the ensuing chaos. Amanda Illestedt (Arsenal) was in front of the goal when the ball rolled in and she was able to find the back of the net. The defender scored her fourth goal of the tournament.

Japan brought on Jun Endo (Angel City) at the start of the second half to try and fight back, but quickly conceded again. Three minutes into the second half, a handball penalty was awarded to Foucault (Liverpool) for defending a corner kick, and Philippe Coutinho (Manchester City) made no mistake from the spot. Japan then introduced Riko Ueki (Tokyo Verdi), Hayashi Honoka (West Ham) and Kiko Seike (Urawa Reds) in quick succession to take the reins of the chase.

Japan’s Aoba Fujino walks off the pitch with a towel covering her face after their defeat to Sweden. Auckland/AFP

Late on, it was time for a counter-attack, but this time luck was not on their side. In the 29th minute, Rico had a chance to add to the lead after winning a direct penalty, but his shot hit the crossbar and bounced away. In the 42nd minute, Aoba Fujino (Tokyo Verdi) aimed for goal with an exquisite direct free kick, but like a pinball, it bounced twice in quick succession off the crossbar and goalpost before hitting the keeper.

From this second ball, Japan pulled a goal back when Honoka fired wide after a build-up by Yui Hasegawa (Manchester City), Jun and Kiko, but that was as close as they would get. Japan, spurred on by the late wake-up call, poured in 11 shots (three on target) in the second half alone, leaving Sweden (four second-half shots, two on target) breathless. The efforts of the substitutes and ace Yui, who worked hard to link up the play in the centre of the pitch, shone through, but it was not enough to change the result.

Japanese football fans watch Japan’s quarter-final match against Sweden on live television in Saitama, Japan. Saitama/EPA Yonhap

Meanwhile, Sweden, who sent defending champions the United States home after a penalty shootout in the previous round of 16, booked their place in the semi-finals by knocking out Japan, the last remaining team with World Cup experience. It is their second consecutive World Cup quarter-final and fifth overall. Their best finish was runner-up in 2003 in the United States. Sweden’s next opponents, who have emerged as favourites, are Spain, who beat the Netherlands 2-1 in extra time on the same day.

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