WINNIPEG, MANITOBA – Holders Nadeshiko Japan secured top spot in Group C with a 1-0 win over Ecuador at the Women’s World Cup in Canada on Tuesday.
Already guaranteed a place in the round of 16, Japan needed only a draw in its final game to go through as group winners, but Yuki Ogimi’s early strike ensured Norio Sasaki’s side made it three wins from three.
“There are little things we can improve on but we have accumulated points and the players have done well to get us through in first place,” said Sasaki.
“We needed to move the ball around more and attack at a higher tempo and this is still something we have to work on.”
Japan beat Switzerland 1-0 in its opener and edged Cameroon 2-1 on Friday and Sasaki, over the three group games, has given playing time to all 23 players in his squad.
“Getting a feel of the pitch at this tournament has given (everyone) a taste of the atmosphere for the knockout phase and I think the players have started to heat up,” the manager said.
Japan will next play the third-placed team from either Group A, B or F, with its opponent to be decided on Wednesday. Japan’s round-of-16 game takes place in Vancouver on June 23.
As expected, Sasaki shuffled his pack again and made seven changes to the team that beat Cameroon, with goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto, former Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa and Asuna Tanaka among those taking their place in the starting lineup.
Ogimi opened the scoring in the fifth minute, volleying in off the underside of the crossbar after Yuika Sugasawa had flicked on Aya Sameshima’s cross.
“It was a good cross from outside the box and it was just a case of me putting away the loose ball,” said Wolfsburg striker Ogimi. “The goal came at a good time for us.”
Captain Aya Miyama almost made it 2-0 when she headed Saori Ariyoshi’s cross against the bar in the 16th, but the Japanese were unable to extend their lead in the first half against the Ecuadorians, who had conceded a whopping 16 goals in their previous two defeats.
Tanaka went close to adding a second, connecting with a cross from Miyama on the hour mark, but Ecuador goalkeeper Shirley Berruz was well positioned to make the save.
Sugasawa rattled the woodwork from the edge of the box with 11 minutes left and substitute Mana Iwabuchi fired straight at Berruz from close range, but Japan was unable to make any further inroads.
“We would like to have scored more goals and build on that in the next round but we did the job we had to do,” said Miyama.
In the other Group C game, goals from Gabrielle Onguene and Madeleine Ngono Mani saw Cameroon come from behind to beat Switzerland 2-1 and take second place with six points.
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