Sweden stakes claim as Women’s World Cup favorite by stopping Japan 2-1 in quarterfinals

Sweden advanced to play Spain, which beat the Netherlands 2-1 in extra time earlier Friday

Futbol femenino
Sweden's Amanda Ilestedt celebrates after the match.HANNAH MCKAY (REUTERS)

Sweden first knocked off the United States and then bounced Japan to snag a spot in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup.

The Swedes, the World Cup runners-up in 2003 and three-time third-place finishers, eliminated previously unbeaten Japan 2-1 in Friday’s quarterfinal. With Japan out of the lineup, this year’s World Cup will crown a first-time winner.

The sold-out crowd at Eden Park, where Sweden will play in the semifinals on Tuesday against Spain, danced to songs by Swedish rock band Abba as it was played throughout the stadium after the win.

Amanda Ilestedt scored a first-half goal and Filippa Angeldal converted a second-half penalty to give Sweden the mild upset and send the Swedes to the semifinals for the fifth time.

Japan had been so prolific with 14 goals in rolling to a 4-0 tournament record, but Japan struggled for most of the game to keep up with the taller Swedish team. When Sweden went up 2-0 late in the second, Japan seemed out of the tournament.

But the Japanese finally made a late comeback and seriously pressured Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic, who is fresh off a World Cup-record 11 saves in the win over the United States.

Riko Ueki’s penalty attempt for Japan in the 76th minute hit the crossbar and bounced clear of the goal, but Musovic was finally beaten in the 86th minute when substitute Honoka Hayashi cut Sweden’s lead to 2-1.

That was all the Japanese mustered as Sweden advanced to play Spain, which beat the Netherlands 2-1 in extra time earlier Friday. Japan had beaten Spain 4-0 in group play.

Japan’s exit means there will be a first-time winner at this World Cup. Japan won in 2011, and previous winners Germany, Norway and the United States were all eliminated earlier in the tournament.

Ilestedt broke through for Sweden in the 32nd minute off a free kick that ricocheted among the players in front of the goal before landing at her feet for the goal. It was the defender’s fourth of the World Cup.

Angeldal added the penalty kick in the 51st minute after Fuka Nagano’s handball in the box was confirmed by video review.

Japan’s run in the World Cup ended with 14 goals, more than any team left in the tournament. Hinata Miyazawa finished with five of those goals to lead the Golden Boot race, matching the team record set by Homare Sawa in Japan’s 2011 title run.

Sweden was riding high after eliminating the two-time defending champion Americans on penalties following a scoreless draw on Sunday. The victory came by just millimeters, when goal-line technology showed that Lina Hurtig’s attempt crossed the line before it could be saved by American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

Japan, No. 11 in the FIFA rankings, earned a place in the quarterfinals with a 3-1 victory over Norway.

The game was a clash of styles from the start: third-ranked Sweden was more physical while Japan was more technical. Sweden dominated possession for much of the match and had the better chances.

Stina Blackstenius beat a defender Saki Kumagai and faced Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita one-on-one in the 25th minute but her shot went wide.

After Ilestedt’s goal, Kosovare Asllani nearly doubled the lead in the 42nd minute, but her blast from the top of the box was pushed away by a diving Yamashita.

Angeldal’s penalty appeared to rattle the Japanese, who struggled against the taller and more athletic Swedes. Japan didn’t get a shot off until the 63rd minute. Japan had scored at least twice in each of its previous games, but had never come back from down two goals in World Cup play.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Sweden eliminated Japan on home soil in the quarterfinals. Sweden advanced to the gold medal game but lost to Canada.

The Swedes have never won a title at either the World Cup or the Olympics.

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