FARO, PORTUGAL – Substitute Megumi Takase headed in a late clincher as women’s world champion Japan pulled off another famous win by edging the United States 1-0 to advance to the championship match at the invitational Algarve Cup on Monday.
Takase, on as a 65th-minute substitute for Kozue Ando, met Aya Miyama’s corner from 12 meters with just six minutes left to see off the defending Algarve champions in Group B in a rerun of last year’s World Cup final.
“It was nice to score from a corner. I’ll take any goal,” said Takase. “We still have the final to play in and I want to score in that game, too. We have to try and keep our eyes on the prize and go all the way.”
Japan will contest the Algarve final on Wednesday with Group A winner Germany, which beat Sweden 4-0 later Monday.
The United States will play Sweden for third place.
“We played well, but we can still do better. We can defend better. We have to build on this,” said Miyama.
Japan was missing Homare Sawa due to illness in the first game between the two teams since Japan stunned the Americans 3-1 on penalty kicks following a pulsating 2-2 draw after 120 minutes at last summer’s World Cup showcase match in Germany.
But Miyama, who recently inherited the captain’s armband from the FIFA World Player of the Year, almost started the scoring when she let fly from 25 meters with just 86 seconds gone.
In a lively opening, the United States had the ball in the net after six minutes when Alex Morgan swept in after a flick on from a deep free kick, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Hope Solo had to be alert at the other end to cut out a cross from Shinobu Ono and then gather a shot from Ando as both sides looked to carve out an early opening.
Morgan looked to be a handful for the Japanese defense and saw a shot come off the post in the 27th minute before scooping a golden chance over 13 minutes into the second period.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki made a triple substitution midway through the second half and the move paid off as Takase grabbed the clincher with a well-taken header.
“I knew the real battle would come in the second half and I’m happy for Takase that she scored. Now we need another high quality performance in the final,” said Sasaki.
Group A also features China and Iceland. Group C brings together host Portugal, Hungary, Ireland and Wales.
The 12 teams are split into three groups that play in a round-robin format. Groups A and B, containing the strongest ranked teams, are the only ones in contention to win the title.
The tournament serves as an important part of Japan’s buildup to this summer’s Olympic Games in London.