CARDIFF, WALES – Women’s world champion Japan was held to a surprise 0-0 draw by underdog South Africa in their final first-round match on Tuesday and took second spot behind Sweden in Group F at the London Games.
Kozue Ando had the best chance in a match Japan dominated, but Norio Sasaki’s team was unable to find a way past the Africans and wrapped up the group stage with five points, finishing behind the Swedes, who drew 2-2 with Canada, on goal difference.
The result means Japan will meet Brazil, which finished run-nerup in Group E after a 1-0 loss to Britain, in Cardiff on Friday.
“We wanted to make sure we stayed in Cardiff for the quarterfinals. It was important for us not to move to Glasgow. We didn’t care who we played in the next match,” said Sasaki.
By playing for the draw instead of the win, Japan achieved its goal of staying in the Welsh capital.
With Japan having already secured their passage to the last eight, Sasaki made several changes to the lineup that drew 0-0 with Sweden in Coventry on Saturday, including goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori and strikers Karina Maruyama and Megumi Takase.
“I was thinking to change a few players for this game, but last night I decided to change them all,” said Sasaki. “We wanted to have all the 18 players on the pitch by the end of the group stage and experience the Olympics. But some of my players didn’t show the same quality on the pitch as they did in training.”
Playing in changed strip of red shirts and white shorts, Japan had the first chance on seven minutes, Ando taking a clever pass from Maruyama and firing at goalkeeper Thokozile Mndaweni.
Ando should have scored with a free header moments later after good work on the right from Takase, while Portia Modise blazed a couple of chances over for South Africa after finding space on the edge of the Japanese box.
Mndaweni was nearly caught off guard by a dipping angled shot from Takase but did well to hold onto a long-range effort from Kyoko Yano nine minutes before halftime.
Japan continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession and Ando should have broken the deadlock with the best move of the game but she scuffed wide a drag back from the byline by Maruyama midway through the second period.
France beat Colombia 1-0 and will face Sweden in a rematch of the third-place game at last year’s World Cup.
The United States beat North Korea 1-0 at Old Trafford to finish on top of Group G with nine points and will play New Zealand in their quarterfinal match after the Kiwis beat Cameroon 3-1 to advance.
The U.S. and Britain finished the group stage with a perfect record.