COVENTRY, ENGLAND – Women’s world champions Japan got its quest for an elusive Olympic medal off to a winning start Wednesday, beating Canada 2-1 in their Group F opener at the London Games.
Two goals inside 11 first-half minutes from Nahomi Kawasumi and captain Aya Miyama put Japan in control, and although Melissa Tancredi replied for the Canadians against the run of play, Norio Sasaki’s team held on for the points.
Sweden, Japan’s next opponents here on Saturday, leads the group, Lotta Schelin scoring twice in a 4-1 thumping of South Africa.
“It was our first match as well as the first for Japan for all the Olympic sports and this is a great start,” said Sasaki. “It was a tough game but the players coped well. I hope Japan’s men’s team make as good a start tomorrow (against Spain).”
FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa had the match’s first effort after five minutes, her volley from Miyama’s cross sailing harmlessly over the crossbar, before Japan had a strong shout for a penalty turned down.
Kaylyn Kyle appeared to bundle over Mizuho Sakaguchi from behind in the box, but Finnish referee Kirsi Heikkinen waved play on, triggering boos and whistles from fans behind Erin McLeod’s goal.
Despite some promising approach work, Japan was frustrated by a well-organized Canadian defense but Sasaki’s side finally made the breakthrough from a neatly worked move on 33 minutes.
Sawa’s pass picked out Shinobu Ono, and the pint-sized striker cleverly put through Kawasumi to drill past McLeod from a tight angle.
“I had data on the Canadian team but wanted to put the feelers out there and try a few things to see how they worked out,” said Kawasumi. “The timing of Ono’s pass was great. I think we would have scored if I had passed to Ogimi or Miyama but just thought I would go it alone and belt it.”
Japan, which finished fourth at the Beijing Games, started to stamp its authority on the game and doubled its lead a minute from halftime. McLeod came but failed to claim Aya Sameshima’s cross and Miyama was on hand to head into an open net.
Nadeshiko Japan continued to force the pace after the break, Lauren Sesselmann scrambling Yuki Ogimi’s shot off the line on 51 minutes, before the Canadians hit back.
Rhian Wilkinson found space on the right flank and whipped in a cross for Tancredi, who got in front of Yukari Kinga to stab home.
Ogimi missed a chance to restore Japan’s two-goal cushion when she sent a free header from Kawasumi’s cross over the bar but Sasaki’s team rarely looked in danger of conceding an equalizer.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game tonight. They (Japan) are world champions, world champions for a reason,” said Canada coach John Herdman, who has now failed to beat Japan in the opening game of a major competition three times in a row.