Japan secured the final spot in this fall’s Women’s World Cup soccer finals in the United States after defeating Mexico 2-0 in the second leg of their qualification playoff in Tokyo on Saturday.
U.S.-based midfielder Homare Sawa headed home in the 56th minute on a humid afternoon at Tokyo’s National Stadium and substitute Karina Maruyama added a late second to give Eiji Ueda’s side a 4-2 aggregate win following last week’s 2-2 draw in Mexico City.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Ueda. “Today’s match was always going to be tough but we have produced a great result and the attitude of the players was absolutely first class.”
“The support from everyone, especially the players’ clubs, has been fantastic,” added Ueda, who said his target at the World Cup is to reach the quarterfinals.
Japan, which failed to qualify for the Sept. 20-Oct. 12 finals automatically after finishing fourth at last month’s Women’s Asian Championships, will be making its fourth consecutive World Cup appearance.
The host dominated the opening period and could have headed in at the interval at least two goals to the good with the best chances falling to Sawa and Yayoi Kobayashi.
Sawa met Emi Yamamoto’s left-wing cross only to see it flash wide of the post after four minutes while Kobayashi, who scored Japan’s opener in the first leg at the Azteca Stadium, hit the crossbar with a clever free-kick on the half hour.
Mexican goalkeeper Pamela Tajonar did well to keep out a close range effort from Kobayashi with her legs as Japan continued to dictate the pace after the interval but the Balvanera Club stopper could do little about Japan’s opener.
Yamamoto, a constant threat on the left flank twisted and turned inside two defenders and sent over a pinpoint cross for Sawa to head home unmarked from six meters out.
Maruyama put the icing on the cake and secured Japan’s place in the next week’s draw for the finals when she stabbed home a free-kick from captain Yumi Obe six minutes from time.