A late goal from substitute Mana Iwabuchi put holders Japan into the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 win over Australia.
Iwabuchi, 22, got the breakthrough after 87 minutes in a tense quarter-final dominated by Japan in sweltering temperatures of 31 degrees celsius in Edmonton, Canada, on Saturday, AFP reported.
It put the 2011 champions through to the last four where they next meet England who beat Canada 2-1 in Vancouver on Saturday.
The second semi-final will see Germany and the United States, both former two-time winners, playing in Ottawa.
“As the Australian players were tired I said to Mana when I sent her in: ‘you are going to decide it’,” explained coach Norio Sasaki of the forward who came on after 72 minutes.
It will be England’s first ever World Cup semi-final and captain Steph Houghton said: “We know it’s going to be a massive game on Wednesday against Japan. We’ve got to respect them, they’re obviously the world champions for a reason.
“Now it’s all about recovering obviously enjoying this moment tonight then travel to Edmonton and trying our best to get into a final.”
The Japanese were dangerous early but had little to show for their efforts during the first 20 minutes in the Commonwealth Stadium.
Forward Shinobu Ohno threatened for the ‘Nadeshiko’ but hit over the crossbar, and soon after sent just wide.
Matildas goalie Lydia Williams proved solid as she pushed Japan captain Aya Miyama’s shot on goal over the bar on 33 minutes.
Just before the break Australia had a chance to break the deadlock only for Kyah Simon’s long range effort to go straight into the hands of Ayumi Kahori in goal.
Australia allowed their best chance go abegging when a Mizuho Sakaguchi error on 54 minutes let Sam Kerr through but her tame effort went straight at Kahori.
Japan continued to look dangerous but Miyama and Yuki Ogmi both missed in front of goal.
Sasaki brought on Iwabuchi for Ohno after 72 minutes and she finally got the winner from close range off a corner after Azusa Iwashimizu’s shot had been blocked.
“Even though it took us a long time to score, our patient playing resulted in this win and has given us confidence for our next game,” said Sasaki.
Said Australian coach Alen Stajcic, “Certainly the better team won. It’s a heartbreaking experience for all of us.
“Even though they scored off a scrappy goal and a set piece in the 88th minute they were probably better at more aspects of the game than we were.
“We expelled a lot of energy defending in that first 20 minute period. They were a lot more composed throughout the 90 minutes.”
It was a fifth win in as many games in Canada for the fourth-ranked Japanese, who beat Australia 1-0 in the Asian Cup final last year.
The Matildas, at 10th, the lowest ranked team left in the tournament, go home after getting past the knockout rounds for the first time in their history by beating Brazil 1-0 in the last 16.
Japan coach said they were trying to recreate the emotion of winning in 2011 when they claimed a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against the United States to lift the spirits of their nation recovering from a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
“The emotion that we created in 2011 we certainly would like to be able to recreate that for the Japanese people,” said Sasaki.
Stajcic said it had been hard for his young side.
“Their starting lineup would probably average 28-29 years and ours 22-23,” he said.
“They have already won a World Cup and Asian Cup, silver at the Olympics, you can tell, their chemistry’s fantastic, they’re technically superb.”