Japan beats Germany to make Women’s WCup semis

Japan knocked two-time defending champion Germany out of the

Women’s World Cup on Saturday, reaching the semifinals with a 1-0

win when substitute Karina Maruyama outran the defense and scored

on an angled shot in extra time.

In Germany’s first loss in the tournament in a dozen years,

Japan absorbed relentless pressure during regulation time and hit

back when it counted.

Standout midfielder Homare Sawa still had the alacrity in the

108th minute to spot a deep run from the substitute, serve her

perfectly and see Maruyama slip it around goalie Nadine Angerer to

stun the 26,067-sellout crowd and an expectant nation.

”I saw her running , I saw the gap in the defense and I gave

the assist,” Sawa said. Such sharpness of mind when others could

hardly run won the 32-year-old the player of the match award.

”I take my hat off to her,” said Germany coach Silvia Neid.

”It is her fifth World Cup and she still plays so well.”

Germany threw everything forward in the final dozen minutes, but

it didn’t matter. As throughout the tension-filled match, the ball

never fell kindly to the hosts in the goalmouth. Instead, Japan was

through to its first World Cup semifinal.

”I am so happy. We all fought together until the end,” said

Maruyama. ”It was not my success but that of the whole team.”

For too long, Germany’s fear of elimination had doused the

spirit of creativity. In the end, fatigue got the better of

everyone as the quarterfinal turned into a survival of the fittest.

And in the end it was the ”Japanese game” that coach Norio Sasaki

promised that made the difference – one precision pass and

lightness of feet outdid two hours of grinding and pushing by the

hosts.

Germany had not lost a World Cup game in a dozen years going

back to a quarterfinal defeat against the United States in

1999.

It also meant the end of the World Cup career of Birgit Prinz,

Germany’s best-ever player and the tournament’s all-time scoring

leader. After two disappointing games, she was benched for the last

group game and again in the quarterfinal. She came off only after

it was all over to shake hands with Sawa, both five-cup

veterans.

After the game, the Japanese players united behind a Japanese

banner saying, ”To our friends around the world – Thank you for

your support,” recognizing the global aid in the wake of the

deadly Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March.

”Out playing is to be an encouragement for the victims of the

disaster,” said Sasaki.

Germany’s tactical plans already went awry after four minutes

when midfielder Kim Kulig hurt her right knee as she was going for

a header which just went over. Neid had counted on her to bring in

more power but instead immediately had to replace her.

”It was a shock for us,” said Neid, who counted on Kulig’s

ball-winning skills.

Germany was piling early pressure with high balls, yet after 20

minutes, things slowly started to turn.

The fervor went out of the capacity crowd and Japan got a better

foothold in midfield.

Unlike its loss to England in the last group game, Japan was

able to deal with the physical pressure Germany was throwing at it

and their defenders put a foot in as often as the Germans did.

Early in the second half, Germany threatened again when Yukari

Kinga kicked a ball off the line off a Simone Laudehr header. Yet

Japan refused to crack under the pressure, even if it was forced to

concede two yellow cards.

Sawa kept her team composed and set up chances for attack with a

close control game and precision passing.

Soon, the mighty Germans were kicking the ball out of their

penalty area in panic and with 15 minutes to go, the quarterfinal

was anybody’s, with two tired teams chasing each and every

ball.

”Our players were forced to be patient and wait for their

opportunity,” said Sasaki.

Lineups:

Germany: Nadine Angerer, Babett Peter, Saskia Bartusiak, Linda

Bresonik (Lena Goessling, 64), Annike Krahn, Melanie Behringer, Kim

Kulig (Bianca Schmnidt, 8) , Simone Laudehr, Celia Okoyino da

Mbabi, Kerstin Garefrekes, Inka Grings (Alexandra Popp, 102).

Japan: Ayumi Kaihori, Aya Sameshima, Saki Kumagai, Azusa

Iwashimizu, Yukari Kinga, Aya Miyama, Homare Sawa, Mizuho

Sakaguchi, Shinobu Ohno (Mana Iwabuchi, 66), Yuki Nagasato (Karina

Maruyama, 46), Kozue Ando.