COVENTRY: World champions Japan began their quest for Olympic gold with a 2-1 win over Canada in Coventry on Wednesday afternoon; later Sweden crushed South Africa 4-1.
The Group F opener was an intriguing clash between the nous and creativity of the Japanese and the enthusiasm and never-say-die spirit of the Canucks.
Japan started the game with no less than nine starters from the side that beat USA in Germany last year to raise the FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy. Canada played to their strengths in the opening exchanges, trying to keep the Japanese from settling into their free-flowing passing game by pressuring the ball at every opportunity.
The North Americans did everything they could to get the ball up the field to their all-time top scorer and all-around attacking threat Christine Sinclair, but Japan’s defence held firm and cut out the early supply lines.
After just five minutes, Japan’s short passing, possession game began to hold sway. FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, Homare Sawa, slammed the first chance of the game over the bar when well placed to score. The Japanese,however, didn’t have to wait long for their goal to come. Sawa collected theball on the left side, chipped a cross into the penalty area, where Shinobu Ohno heel-flicked it into the path of Nahomi Kawasumi, who hammered home from close range.
The world champions, buoyed by their opening strike, began to turn on the style, taking total control of the game. Canada, for their part, began to look tired, perhaps spent from over-exerting themselves early in the half. The Asians took full advantage with a minute left in the opening period, Aya Miyamaheading home a cross form Aya Sameshima that was misjudged by Canuck goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
The Canadians pulled a goal back ten minutes into the second half, with Rhian Wilkinson’s service from the flank hammered home by Melissa Tancredi. It wasall they could muster, though, as Japan had three more chances to score in what turned out to be a one-sided contest. Yuki Ogimi, Nahomi Kawasumi and substitute Kozue Ando all had decent chances, but were denied by McLeod.
Japan will meet Sweden in their second game on 28 July, the same day that Canada aim to secure their first points of London 2012 against South Africa.
Sweden shrugged off the lethargy evident in their goalless friendly against Great Britain last Friday as they claimed a comfortable 4-1 victory over South Africa, also in Coventry.
Nilla Fischer, Lisa Dahlkvist and Lotta Schelin were all on target in the first half . Portia Modise pulled one back for South Africa with an early goal of the tournament contender but it proved merely a consolation for Mkhonzana Mkhonza’s side as Schelin added a fourth moments later.
The Swedes dominated the encounter from the first whistle and could have taken the lead within five minutes but midfielder Caroline Seger saw her effort from distance come back off the crossbar.
Thomas Dennerby’s side were ahead in the sixth minute, though, when captain Fischer’s strike from the edge of the penalty area deflected off South Africa defender Refiloe Jane and looped over helpless goalkeeper Roxanne Barker into the net.
The lead was doubled on 19 minutes after Marie Hammarstrom picked out team-mate Dahlkvist with an accurate cross and the latter converted from close range.
Within seconds, Sweden extended their advantage even further and ensured their Olympic campaign would start with a win. Fischer found Schelin free behind the South African defence and the forward poked the ball past Barker to make it 3-0.
Finally sparked into action, South Africa almost responded immediately but Modise shot wide after being afforded too much time and space in the Sweden box, in the last genuine action of the opening period.
Modise more than made up for that miss 14 minutes into the second half, however, beating Sweden ‘keeper Hedvig Lindahl from almost the halfway line to give the South Africans a slim chance of mounting a comeback.
Any hopes of securing a result were dashed within three minutes, though, as Schelin claimed her second goal of the match to restore Sweden’s three-goal cushion, which was rarely threatened during the rest of the encounter.
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