Sawa Hat Trick Advances Japan to Next Round



by Kara McDermott

Group play may have started tentatively in the first round, but breaking away was the theme of the second round of play.

First France decimated Canada in Group A with a 4-0 win, and then Japan did the same to a young Mexican side with an equally decisive 4-0 victory.

Japan has played in six World Cups, but this is the first time since 1995 that they have advanced out of group play.

Japan entered the game with several factors working in their favor. They had the confidence of already having a point advantage over Mexico, having won their first game against New Zealand while Mexico tied England.

Japan also held a record of 5-1-1 against this side (last time they played ended in a 3-0 win for Japan). And what would prove perhaps the most telling to the result of the game, in this match-up of the two shortest teams in the tournament, Japan held an inch advantage averaging 5’4” to Mexico’s 5’3”.

A win would secure advancement for Japan and Aya Miyama, whose three career World Cup goals have come off of corner kicks, started that campaign early by serving a perfect free kick from the left side to the head of Homare Sawa to put Japan on the board early in the 13th minute. Mexico also allowed England’s only goal against them on a set piece in their first game of group play.

Succumbing to five-minute rule, Mexico allowed a sharp passing play in the middle that lead to a sniper shot from Shinobu Ohno in the 15th minute.

Mexico goalkeeper’s Cecilia Santiago, just 16 years old, struggled to find her timing as a defensive player, coming out early to pressure the Japanese forwards and exposing her goal to the quick and agile Japanese. After 20 minutes, possession was estimated to skew heavily for the Japanese at 64%. More impressively, they had two goals on goal and were able to convert both.

Japan’s passing was some of the best of the tournament, crisp and quick. Favoring one and two-touch play, once they hit their momentum through the middle, interrupting their movement forward was a challenge to the Mexican side.

Mexico played most of the first half playing defense, but created a few offensive chances off of the work from Maribel Dominguez. Japan favored double-teaming every ball, aided by the delayed transition of the overworked Mexican midfielders from defense to offense. Particularly after going down two goals, Mexico favored long balls out of the defense and midfield to their front players to attempt to counter Japan’s control over the central midfield.

With second half winding down, Sawa added a brace in the 39th minute off of a corner kick from the left side. Three of the most dangerous shots from the Japanese side came from headers and two were goals. Japan narrowly missed another chance a few minutes later after a one-on-one with the keeper resulted in a successful shot, but also an offsides flag.

Santiago bobbled an easy long shot without pressure, unfortunately showing the opposition how much the three goals in the first half affected her mental fortitude.

Mexico started the second half with an obvious attitude of motivation. Down by three against a technically more proficient side, taking risks and pushing forward was the only chance to at the very least counter the crushing goal differential before heading into their final must-win game against New Zealand.

The ball told the story of the match. The Japanese passes flew true and rolled solidly across the pitch, while even the short passes of the Mexicans bounced along the turf. The first touches of the Japanese side were confident forward. Mexico favored defensive touches closer to the body.

Japan settled into a game of possession, but in the first 10 minutes of the second half they still took their opportunities, pinging off the woodwork several times.

A surprising substitution from the trailing team took out their captain and one of their top players, Dominguez, for defender Kenti Robles in the 62nd minute, perhaps a sign that Mexico was fairly conceding the game and looking to preserve their captain from injury or another yellow card (she already received one against England) for their next fixture against New Zealand.

Sawa, stalking unmarked at the penalty spot, converted a pass on an end-line run from Yukari Kingao in the 80th minute, giving her the first hat trick of the World Cup since Mia Otani (also of Japan) against Argentina in 2003. This last goal was the end result of 14 uninterrupted touches by the Japanese team.

Mexico will have to win their final match against New Zealand and will likely need some help from the England vs. Japan fixture on Tuesday.

Japan has stamped their passport to the next round, but Group B is still undecided as England plays New Zealand later today. New Zealand previously lost to Japan 2-1 and will need the victory and England tied with Mexico. A win for England would put them in good standing, but even so Mexico wouldn’t be out of it yet.

Group C plays again tomorrow with the US taking on young upstarts Colombia and Sweden playing Korea DPR.

Attendance: 22,291

You can read more by Kara McDermott on her blog, Waving the Rave.


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