The Women’s World Cup recap: That One’s Gotta Hurt

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This is a recap from yesterday’s World Cup game. Read previous WWC recaps here.

Japan and England 2 – 1

Gutted. The exact word for the devastation the English women’s football team must be feeling, and how the footballing world feels for them today. The Three Lionesses lost their semi-final match to Japan on Wednesday in the most devastating manner a team could lose: an own goal in the 92nd minute.

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The match started well, evenly matched. Both teams were patient with each other, waiting to poke holes in each other’s defense. Japan held the ball more but each time, England was able to put a stop to the attack and counter threateningly. It looked as though England would score first, but referee had a different idea.

At the 31st minute, England defender Claire Rafferty would catch a yellow card for a foul on Saoiri Ariyoshi, just at the top of the box. The referee, New Zealand’s Anne-Marie Keighley, saw the foul happen inside the box and awarded a penalty for Japan. Hindsight coupled with instant replay would later tell us that that foul shouldn’t have been a penalty at all. Regardless, the penalty was given and at the 33rd minute, Aya Miyama would send in an unsavable shot to the bottom left corner. Had goalkeeper Karen Bardsley guessed correctly as to which way to dive, she still wouldn’t have stood a chance against the well placed ball. Japan had the lead 1-0.

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Just seven minutes later, referee Keighley saw a foul that wasn’t, this time at the other end of the pitch. On an England corner kick, the ball would settle down at the feet of England captain Karen Houghton. Houghton tried to make her way through the crowd of Japanese defenders, but felt pressure on her back and decided to go down a bit too easily.  The dive earned the call and a penalty for England. Fara Williams would send in an excellent shot to the bottom left making it level at 1-1 at the 40th. This was one time where it actually felt like two wrong calls did indeed make a right with one bad penalty apiece.

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After the half, England came out striking. For the first 20 minutes or so it was not a matter of if they would score, but when. Japan did well to fend off some attempts, though several shots narrowly missed the frame. After those first 20, the tables turned for a bit and Japan would become the more threatening side, though their chances weren’t quite as close. The back and forth settled somewhat, both teams were starting to look tired, but in the last five they would again push for a goal to end the match without extra time. It was in that final push that England found their undeserved end.

What was likely Japan’s final attack, and one with real potential, had a ball flying into the box from Nahomi Kawasumi on the right flank. To prevent the pass from landing right in the path of Yuki Ogimi, England’s Laura Bassett reached out leg to intercept. Instead of intercepting however, the ball flew from the foot of Bassett over the head of Bardsley to bounce under the crossbar and over the line. Japan would win the match on an England own goal in the 92nd minute of the match, when extra time seemed all but inevitable.

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I don’t think Japan totally deserved this win, but that’s how it works sometimes in the sport we love. I might be upset with this result had it been the case that Japan played miserably and lucked into this win, but that’s not the case. This is a great team, and their ability to win outright or in matches like Wednesday’s are why they are the defending champions. In the finals though, they’ll need to play better than they did today, especially if the US brings their A-game. Their patience and control of the ball has the ability to frustrate, and a team like the US, a team that expects to win can be easily frustrated. This is where Japan could again find themselves named champions.

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As for England, this team soared above expectations in this tournament, and they did so in the face of a country that never gives its women’s football teams enough credit. While this loss is devastating, it comes after a tournament of so many successes. They’ve come a long way under the management of Mark Sampson, who’s pride in these ladies is very clear.  With more support at home, I look forward to seeing how this team continues to grow.

On Saturday, England will face Germany to decide third-place, and on Sunday, the champions will be crowned in a re-match of the finals from four years ago, USA vs Japan at 4pm PT. Follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #AEWWC.