Nadeshiko dealt knockout punch by superior Sweden

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nadeshiko Japan players salute the crowd after their loss to Sweden in Auckland on Friday.

AUCKLAND — In the end, the team that scored 14 goals and conceded just one in four previous matches was outplayed in both aspects of the game. Not that the players didn’t give their all.

Nadeshiko Japan was shuffled out of the Women’s Soccer World Cup with a 2-1 loss in the quarterfinals on Friday to a physically superior Swedish squad.

“Today’s opponent was the strongest we faced [in this tournament] in terms of ball control,” team captain Saki Kumagai said. “We have to be able to compete with such long legs and speed.” Japan conceded a goal off a loose ball following a free kick in the 32nd minute, then fell behind 2-0 from a penalty kick in the 51st minute. Having created few chances for much of the encounter at Eden Park, Japan finally went on the offensive late in the game and managed to pull one back on substitute Honoka Hayashi’s goal in the 87th minute.

Spirits were bolstered somewhat when 10 minutes of additional time was displayed at the end of regulation time. Chants of “Japan! Japan!” resonated around the stadium.

Encouraged by the support, Nadeshiko sent waves of attack at the Swedish goal, but could not penetrate the defense. When it was over, the players collapsed onto the pitch in tears.

“I am proud that we fought as a team, but the reality is that we lost,” head coach Futoshi Ikeda said. “I hope we will continue to grow as Nadeshiko Japan.”

As the team now looks to rebound with qualifying for the Paris Olympics ahead, midfielder Yui Hasegawa said, “Each and every one of us must go on while keeping this loss in mind.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Midfielder Yui Hasegawa battles for the ball in the first half against Sweden in Auckland on Friday.

About 80 people gathered at a public viewing event in Akabane Gymnasium in Tokyo’s Kita Ward to watch the match.

The ward is the home of women’s pro team Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza, which had three members playing in the World Cup: Riko Ueki, Momoko Tanaka, and Aoba Fujino. Cheers erupted when Japan closed the gap to one goal. Yasuhiro Matsuki, who works in Kita Ward and was attending with his family, said, “They put up a good fight to the end against a stronger opponent.”

A similar event was held in Minami-Ashigara, Kanagawa Prefecture, which is the hometown of Hinata Miyazawa, who scored five goals in this tournament. As Miyazawa approached the goal, a huge cheer arose from crowd. Sitting up front was Miyazawa’s mother, Takayo, who said, “I hope people will gain even a little more appreciation of women’s soccer. I want to tell [the team], ‘Well done.’”