OSAKA – Japan’s path to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics got off to a nightmarish start as the former world champions went down 3-1 at the hands of Australia in a women’s Asian final qualifier on Monday.
Australia exacted sweet revenge for its defeat to Japan at last year’s Women’s World Cup behinds goals from Lisa de Vanna, Michelle Heyman and Katrina Gorry on a freezing evening at Kincho Stadium.
Yuki Ogimi struck in first-half injury time for Japan, which must quickly regroup by Wednesday when it faces South Korea.
South Korea drew 1-1 with North Korea at neighboring Nagai Stadium, where China also beat Vietnam in the six-team, round-robin qualifying competition. The top two book a place at Rio this summer.
In a rematch of the World Cup quarterfinal which Japan won 1-0 en route to the final, Australia deservedly went ahead after 26 minutes through de Vanna with the hosts looking shaky defensively early on, especially goalkeeper Erina Yamane.
Former women’s Asian Player of the Year Gorry set the table with a cross from the right for de Vanna, who nodded past Yamane virtually uncontested from the heart of the area.
Alanna Kennedy came within inches of doubling the lead in the 34th minute, when she buzzed the post with a free kick from 20 meters out.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki could bear no longer as he made his first substitution in the 39th minute, sending his tried and trusted striker Shinobu Ono to the bench for Kumi Yokoyama.
Japan’s deficit worsened four minutes to the break with some misfortune. Mizuho Sakaguchi’s pass in midfield went off the back of referee Carina Vitulano, igniting a short counter for the Australians.
De Vanna turned creator this time, sending through Heyman who neatly finished off the sequence.
Japan did well to close the gap just before halftime, Ogimi netting from point-blank range in the second minute of stoppage time, and Sasaki’s side poured it on from the start of the second half in search of the equalizer.
But the Matildas hit Japan once again after 79 minutes, when Gorry headed home by the far post unchallenged from Emily van Egmond’s well-flighted, rightwing cross.