Defending World Cup champs Japan edge Switzerland in group opener

Japan began their defense of their 2011 World Cup title with a hard-fought 1-0 win against Switzerland at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday night. Aya Miyama scored a first-half penalty kick after Gaelle Thalmann clattered through Kozue Ando in the 27th minute, and the goal held up to see out the game.

Switzerland came into the tournament — the first Women’s World Cup in its history — riding an impressive run of form. In qualifying, they had outscored their opposition 53-1 and certainly looked more than a match for a Japan side that was considered to be at best dark horses in Canada.

"We expected to be put under immense pressure at the start of the match." Japan coach Norio Sasaki told FIFA’s official website after the win. "Although we have the team and style needed for controlled play, we struggled to implement our game plan. We can keep the ball well, and I told my players that they should let it run for as long as possible, but their play was too direct. That’s something I still want to correct."

From the outset, Japan looked the more incisive side, with Miyama a consistent threat. She would test Thalmann in the 15th minute minute with a swerving shot that drifted just wide of the far post, and remained a focal point for the Japanese attack throughout the night.

Japan actually might have had a penalty call quite a bit earlier, when Yuki Ogimi appeared to be cleaned out as a ball from the endline was whipped into her in the box. The no-call was curious as it was clearly a foul, but Japan would get their call seven minutes later.

On a 50-50 ball, Ando beat Thalmann and for her troubles, was put down hard onto the turf. Was it a penalty? That was questionable but the referee immediately pointed to the spot as the Swiss players protested in vain. Ando had to be helped off the field, and Miyama picked her spot, beating Thalmann to the far post.

Japan did not relent, using long balls over the top to pull the Swiss defense apart. Mizuho Sakaguchi was almost slipped through in the 35th minute, but Noelle Maritz got in a critical intervention to block away the shot.

The chances from the Swiss were few and far between early, but Erina Yamane was hardly idle. Yamane was called on early to come out and make a sliding stop on Ramona Bachmann in the 12th minute; Bachmann also had a fine chance late in the first half, but her surging run on net ended up with a near miss into the ad boards.

The second half saw a far more concerted effort from the Swiss, with Bachmann again at the center of the action. Blowing by four Japanese players ad putting Yamane on the ground, she got her cleats caught in the turf in the 55th minute to let an open net go unruffled. Still, it was often a case of effort going unrewarded for the Swiss, even as Japan started to make gaffes.

Yamane nearly chucked the ball in her own net after coming and flapping at a corner. Space opened up for Ana Maria Crnogorcevic. Bachmann remained a handful, firing just over in stoppage. As the game wound down, the Swiss were ascendant, and they are likely to see this game as a missed opportunity.

Japan could have made things easier: Yuigi Sukasawa almost killed the game off with 20 to play when she found herself alone in space after a Swiss gaffe, only to fire her shot back out off the far post.

"We were lacking something, particularly a little luck and precision, to secure the draw we would have deserved," Switzerland boss Martina-Voss Tecklenburg told FIFA’s official website after the match. "Although we lost, we’ve got to look ahead and build on what we did well today. We proved that we’re a good side and made it clear how motivated we are, and that’s the most important thing for me."

She added: "I can’t blame my players at all. Ramona Bachmann was probably most disappointed that she was unable to convert her chances. We already knew she was a fantastic footballer, and now the rest of the world knows too."

Japan next face Cameroon (live, Friday, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go, 10 p.m. ET), big 6-0 winners earlier on Monday over a totally outclassed Ecuador, while the Swiss take on the aforementioned South Americans (live, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go, 7 p.m. ET).  

The World Cup continues on Tuesday across the FOX family with two doubleheaders as France takes on England (live, FOX, FOX Sports Go, 1 p.m. ET) and Colombia see Mexico (live, FOX, FOX Sports Go, 4 p.m. ET); while Spain faces Costa Rica (live, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go, 4 p.m. ET) and Brazil meet Korea Republic (live, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go, 7 p.m. ET).