July 9, Japan fomented the greatest-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup upset when the tiny nation, recently devastated by tsunami and earthquakes, soundly defeated two-time champion Germany 1-0 in overtime in quarterfinals.
Reigning World Cup champion and host Germany was considered invincible and a sure bet for the finals. But the Japan and France upsets show how quickly women’s soccer has advanced around the world and that there are no longer bets in this tournament.
Japan substitute Karina Maruyama, passed over by the Philadelphia Independence, scored the game winner and WPS veteran Homare Sawa provided the assist. Sawa is also the 2011 World Cup goal leader to date, with a hat trick delivered in Japan’s 4-0 rout of Mexico in group play.
Japan elevates the game
The tiny Japanese players, the smallest clocking in at just five feet tall, were confident and technical and worked together as tightly as fingers on a hand. Dancing around in small groups, Japan kept the ball on the ground and made short quick passes with an uncanny sense of where their teammates were. Germany, normally a precise, powerful team, seemed increasingly outplayed as the game progressed.
Japan appeared indefatigueable and delivered surprisingly solid physical tackles as Germany’s urgency increased. Germany launched 23 shots to Japan’s nine, but hardworking goalkeeper Ayumo Kaihori was up to the challenge and finished with a clean sheet.
It was Germany’s first loss at the tournament for 12 years, when they were defeated 3–2 by the USA in quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Japan will face the winner of the Sweden-Australia quarterfinal, which kicks off on Sunday, July 10 at 7 a.m. ET on ESPN.
France overthrows England
If not for the unexpected and definitive Japan-Germany coup, France would have headlined the quarterfinal upsets by defeating England in penalties. It was the first time France beat England since 1974.
France rained a storm of 33 shots on England and won 16 corner kicks, while England only managed seven shots and seven corners. Jill Scott put England ahead in the second half and Elise Bussaglia evened it up for France. France and England were deadlocked 1-1 at 90 minutes and 30 minutes of overtime couldn’t change the score. Penalties are usually heartbreaking for England and they were here as well, with Faye White’s final penalty clipping the cross bar and sending France into wild celebration.
England coach Hope Powell made questionable substitutions, making her final substitute out defender Alex Scott instead of England’s leading goal scorer Kelly Smith, who was injured and barely able to run before before regulation time ran out.
In the semifinals, France will play the winner of the USA-Brazil quarterfinal, which kicks off on Sunday, July 10, at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN.
Click here for FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinals schedule and group results
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