FRANKFURT - Their “Nadeshiko” nickname comes from a pink frilled carnation symbolizing grace and beauty, but it was power, passion and sharp shooting from a surprise change to the starting lineup that helped put Japan on the brink of world domination on Wednesday night.
Nahomi Kawasumi marked her arrival on the Women’s World Cup scene in style with a brace to send Japan into its first ever showcase final after a commanding 3-1 win over a Sweden side that previously had won every match it played at Germany 2011.
Norio Sasaki’s team will meet two-time champion the United States in Sunday’s showcase match following the Americans’ victory over France by the same scoreline in the day’s first semifinal.
Josefine Oqvist gave Sweden an early lead, but Kawasumi, making her first start of the tournament, leveled on 19 minutes and Homare Sawa headed the second before Kawasumi’s long-range effort sealed a historic victory in front of a crowd of over 45,000 in Frankfurt.
“We made some mistakes but they served as a wake-up call and we were able to play our brand of soccer,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.
“Kawasumi was making her first start and did ever so well. All of the players did a fantastic job,” added Sasaki, whose team will be looking for revenge against the Americans after a pair of 2-0 away defeats in May in warmup matches for the finals.
“We lost twice to the Americans and will give it our best shot in the final.”
Sawa has been one of the stars of Japan’s magical run to the final but it was a mistake from the veteran midfielder that led to Sweden’s opener on 10 minutes.
Sawa misdirected a pass to Azusa Iwashimizu and Oqvist pounced to burst through and rifle a deflected effort past Ayumi Kaihori, but it was not long before Japan got back on level terms.
Aya Miyama collected Shinobu Ono’s pass on the left flank and whipped in a cross for Kawasumi to get in front of Oqvist and bundle past Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
“We conceded a goal partly because of my mistake but I still felt we could score and I was determined to put things right,” said Sawa, who has played club soccer in the United States.
“I wanted to play America in the final and I am delighted that I will be able to do that. We definitely want to take home the gold medal.”
Player of the match Miyama went close to putting Japan into the lead 10 minutes before the break with a free kick that Lindahl awkwardly turned around the post.
Ono hit the cross bar with a long-range effort early in the second period and Sawa put the Japanese in front on the hour mark, heading in her fourth goal of the tournament after Lindahl had fumbled Aya Sameshima’s ball into the box.
Kawasumi, who had come in at the expense of Yuki Nagasato as Japan’s focal point of attack, secured victory four minutes later, picking up Lindahl’s clearance to lob into an unguarded net.
“We had played four matches and I was used to the stadiums and the atmosphere so was not so nervous (about making my first start),” said Kawasumi.
“I got a great ball in from Aya (for the first goal) and it was just a case of putting it away. The goal was open for the second so I just hit it.”
Sameshima added, “We went behind but we all thought we would win and we were able to play our game in the second half. We were always on top stamina-wise. We lost twice against the United States, but we are going to make sure we win this time.”
After the victory, the Japanese team, hugging and shouting in delight, again rolled out a banner that said “To our Friends Around the World. Thank You for Your Support,” referring to global aid provided after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left around 20,000 dead or missing.
“What we have been doing so far is very good for Japan,” Sasaki said. “We are still recovering from the disaster. There were so many victims. Even small things like a win can encourage people and give them hope.”
Sweden was dealt a major blow shortly before kickoff, when inspirational captain Caroline Seger was forced to withdraw from the starting lineup with an injury to her left calf.
“It can happen with your team. You have to handle that as a team and we didn’t today,” said Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby. “Tonight, the Japanese were a bit more eager to win.”