LONDON – Goals from Yuki Ogimi and Mizuho Sakaguchi fired world champions Japan into the final of the London Olympics with a nail-biting 2-1 win over France on Monday, guaranteeing the country its first-ever Olympic medal in the women’s soccer competition.
Ogimi and Sakaguchi struck either side of halftime and France missed a late penalty as Norio Sasaki’s side set up a date with either reigning Olympic champions the United States or Canada in Thursday’s final here.
The Americans were playing Canada later in the day at Old Trafford.
The result also put Japan on the brink of a soccer medal double, with the men’s Under-23s in action in the semifinals against Mexico here on Tuesday.
Fourth at the Beijing Games, Nadeshiko Japan got a fright in the seventh minute when goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto spilled a shot from Gaetane Thiney before gathering at the second attempt.
Louisa Necib then set alarm bells ringing again but with options available in the box, over-elaborated and the chance went begging.
Ogimi had been subjected to tight marking by the French defense but she earned the free kick that she was to finish off and give Japan the lead in the 32nd minute after being bundled over by Wendie Renard.
Miyama floated the set-piece into the danger zone and France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi fumbled and allowed Ogimi to scramble home the loose ball from close range for her second goal of the tournament.
There was more joy for the Japanese just four minutes into the second half with Ogimi drawing another free kick from a foul by Elise Bussaglia.
Dead-ball specialist Miyama stepped up to send in a pinpoint delivery for Sakaguchi to beat Bouhadddi with a superb header inside the post.
France looked to hit back immediately as Corine Franco scooped over and Marie-Laure Delie’s shot from a tight angle produced a good block from Fukumoto, who then got down well to save from Necib.
Fukumoto, however, could do little as the French reduced the arrears with a well-taken finish from substitute Eugenie Le Sommer on 76 minutes, and Sakaguchi nearly went from hero to villain when she fouled Le Sommer to concede a penalty with 10 minutes left.
But Sakaguchi was let off the hook as Bussaglia fired her effort wide of the right-hand post.
Despite continuous late pressure, Japan stood firm to exact swift revenge for their 2-0 defeat to France in Paris in their final Olympic tune-up on July 19.