COVENTRY, ENGLAND – Japan coach Norio Sasaki has lavished praise on defender Azusa Iwashimizu for her outstanding performance in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Sweden at the London Games.
Sasaki had pinpointed Lotta Schelin as Sweden’s main attacking threat after the striker bagged a brace in the Scandinavians’ opening 4-1 demolition of underdogs South Africa here in Coventry last Wednesday.
But the 28-year-old Schelin hardly had a sniff on goal as Iwashimizu, only recently back from injury, did her homework and delivered an imperious display at the heart of Japan’s defense alongside Saki Kumagai.
“As you could all see in her performance, she (Iwashimizu) got both behind and in front of their ace No. 8 and dealt with her without any fuss,” said Sasaki.
“Over the last two days she has been very thorough and watched television footage of a number of matches to check (on Schelin). The way she prepared herself was absolutely first class.”
Iwashimizu admitted she was delighted to contribute to a clean sheet.
“It’s my job to try and keep out our opponents. My body is moving well and I am pleased that I was able to help us keep a clean sheet,” said Iwashimizu, a key figure in Japan’s triumph at last year’s Women’s World Cup.
“Since the World Cup our defenders and goalkeepers have been watching our opponents and working out ways to snuff them out.”
Both teams qualified for the quarterfinals after results went their way in other matches.
Japan dominated long stretches of the second half but lacked a ruthless streak in front of goal, despite creating a raft of chances.
“We played well in both attack and defense and it’s a shame we couldn’t get the result we wanted,” said Sasaki. “The players held meetings both on and off the pitch and prepared so well for this game so I wanted them to get the three points. We will have to do more shooting practice in training.”
Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby admitted he had done some “very strict” research on Japan, which had won its previous two games against the Swedes, and was pleased his tactics had paid off.
“All the teams know almost everything about each other so that’s one of the things you have to work with to win football games today. We knew a lot about Japan before the game,” said Dennerby.
“Japan are a really good team. Maybe (Homare) Sawa is not on the highest peak that she reached last year (at the World Cup) but Japan are still one of the best teams in the world. There is no doubt about that.”
U.S., Brazil victorious
Gold-medal favorite United States, host Britain and Brazil qualified for the quarterfinal stage of women’s Olympic soccer Saturday.
The U.S. beat Colombia 3-0, Britain cruised past Cameroon 3-0 while Brazil needed a late goal to win 1-0 against New Zealand.
U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe opened the scoring for the Americans in the 33rd after receiving a pass from forward Alex Morgan. Rapinoe curled a shot from 20 meters and it was too high for Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda to get her hands to.
The United States dominated possession in the first half and could have added more, but Colombia’s defense did just enough to keep the Americans at bay. Colombia also caused some problems for the U.S., but conceded possession over and over again in threatening positions.
In the second half, the U.S. ramped up the pressure and scored two goals. Abby Wambach was sandwiched between two defenders in the penalty area and she was able to slide the ball past Sepulveda in the 74th. The goal made Wambach the all-time leading scorer in Olympic play for the Americans with six goals.