BOCHUM, GERMANY – Aya Miyama’s second-half free kick gave Japan a 2-1 victory over New Zealand and a winning start to its Women’s World Cup campaign on Monday.
Miyama struck from just outside the box after Yuki Nagasato opened the scoring early and Amber Hearn quickly leveled for New Zealand, as Norio Sasaki’s side collected its first points in Germany.
Ranked fourth in the world, Japan is trying to better its quarterfinal result from the 1995 competition in its sixth appearance. Japan’s next match is on Friday against Mexico, which plays England in the other Group B contest later Monday.
“Our performance wasn’t great, but we worked hard to win that free kick and I’m glad I was able to put it away,” Miyama said. “We’re here to win the championship this time.”
Sasaki said his team was slowed down by the heat as well as the first-game jitters against world No. 24 New Zealand.
“It was a lot hotter than we expected it to be. Some of our players’ feet stopped moving and some lost their concentration,” Sasaki said. “We could have made it a lot easier on ourselves had we finished when we had the chance.
“The first match is always difficult. The important thing now is to recover physically for the Mexico game, which we’ve already done our analysis for.”
Japan came out flying from the start, successfully blitzing the Kiwis in the sixth minute through Nagasato.
Shinobu Ono keyed a counter with an interception in midfield before flicking a pretty pass over the top of the defense for Nagasato, who lobbed goalkeeper Jenny Bindon on the first touch of her left foot for Japan’s first strike of the tournament.
The Japanese lead, however, did not last long as New Zealand evened the score six minutes later on a break of their own.
Ria Percival was unleashed by a big long ball down the right before she crossed for Hearn by the far post. Hearn rose high above defender Azusa Iwashimizu and keeper Ayumi Kaihori, slamming a header into the back of the net to equalize.
Japan nearly reestablished its advantage in the 18th minute, when right-back Yukari Kinga picked out an unmarked Mizuho Sakaguchi who hit the left-hand post to her agony.
The game settled down midway through the second half as Japan continued to create in and around the penalty area, only to see its efforts miss the target time after time.
Mana Iwabuchi, the 18-year-old dribbling wiz, took the pitch 10 minutes into the second half for Ono, breathing some life into the Japanese attack with her pace and unpredictability.
It was Iwabuchi who won Miyama’s free kick after zigzagging her way past New Zealand defenders, captain Rebecca Smith drawing a yellow card for tripping up her pint-sized 155-cm opponent.
Miyama demonstrated great poise as she stepped up to the ball and curled her free kick over a wall of white shirts to push Japan out in front for good.
Captain Homare Sawa, who is playing in her fifth World Cup, said the win should help her squad settle down for the rest of the tournament.
“I learned again just how difficult the pressure of the first game is to deal with,” Sawa said. “But we never let up until the end. We played hard.
“These three points will take a load off our shoulders going into the next game.”
Warner’s duties cut back
A Cabinet shakeup in Trinidad and Tobago is leaving former scandal-tainted international soccer executive Jack Warner with less governmental duties in the Caribbean nation.
Warner had been the minister of the Works and Transport Ministry. But Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has created a new transport ministry, taking away Warner’s responsibilities for port and airport authorities, the national airline and the state-owned bus service.
The reshuffle was announced late Sunday .