Rennes: Japan’s FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 campaign ended in heartbreaking fashion, after a 90th-minute Lieke Martens penalty secured a 2-1 win for the Netherlands on Tuesday.
Japan produced their best football of the tournament, particularly in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to advance, as Martens scored both goals for a Dutch side who will appear in the last eight for the first time in history.
Despite a virtuoso performance from Mana Iwabuchi, who created a string of chances, only Yui Hasegawa managed to find the net for Japan, whose dream of reaching a third successive World Cup final was cruelly dashed.
Many had expected a quality clash between the champions of Europe and Asia, and it proved to be one of the games of the tournament.
Aya Sameshima and Nana Ichise both contributed timely interventions to prevent the deadly Vivianne Miedema from getting a shot on target, but the Netherlands’ building pressure paid early dividends when Martens opened the scoring in the 17th minute.
The Barcelona star took full advantage of being left unmarked from a corner kick, flicking the ball in with the outside of her right boot from six yards, although a deflection from Japanese striker Yuika Sugasawa played a crucial role in Ayaka Yamashita’s inability to keep it out.
Japan responded immediately, as Sugasawa came within a whisker of equalising after being superbly supplied by Iwabuchi, who was at the heart of all things positive for the Nadeshiko.
With Sameshima keeping Dutch star Shanice Van de Sanden’s impact to a minimum, Takakura’s side increasingly began to impose themselves on the match, to the extent that it came as no great surprise when another inspired pass from Iwabuchi released Yui Hasegawa to poke the ball into the upper half of the net and make it 1-1 three minutes before half-time.
The Dutch lead was nearly restored when Miedema forced Yamashita into a crucial save just before the interval, and a Sherida Spitse free-kick kept the goalkeeper busy shortly after it.
At the other end, Sugasawa sent a shot over the crossbar, before Emi Nakajima forced Sari Van Veenendaal into an important stop with a curling 30-yard effort as the pendulum continued to swing.
Iwabuchi’s influence continued to be profound. She supplied a sumptuous backheel to give Hasegawa a sight on goal, then hit the side-netting herself with 15 minutes remaining, before another superb pass set up Sugita, who rattled the crossbar.
With substitute Yuka Momiki now bolstering their attack, Japan began to slice the Dutch defence open, seemingly at will, but the goal they so desperately craved failed to materialise.
And it would prove costly, as a rare Dutch attack ended with Lineth Beerensteyn hammering the ball into Saki Kumagai’s arm, referee Melissa Borjas pointing to the spot and Martens stroking home the 90th minute winner.
It was a cruel end to a superb Japanese performance, as the Netherlands advanced to a quarter-final clash against Italy in Valenciennes.
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images