CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in VANCOUVER: Japan took a big step towards retaining the FIFA Women’s World Cup with a 2-1 win over Holland to book their place in the quarter-finals against Australia.
Goals from Saori Ariyoshi and Mizuho Sakaguchi were enough to seal the win in Vancouver’s BC Place stadium, though Holland’s World Cup debutants struck in stoppage time with a soft header by Kirsten Van de Ven.
The goal was not enough to prevent Japan completing the line-up of the last eight here in Canada. They will meet an Australia side who arguably recorded the biggest upset of the tournament by beating Brazil 1-0, thanks to a late strike from Kyah Simon.
The Matildas will be making their third consecutive appearance in the quarter-finals but technically, because of the format expansion of this year’s tournament, the victory over Brazil was their first ever knockout win.
Holland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics from Europe’s three slots are now in the balance.
They will most likely contest the third and final European place in a mini tournament early next year alongside Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
The other quarter-finals all look to be hotly contested affairs. Friday sees tournament favourites Germany, who knocked out Sweden 4-1, take on fellow Europeans France who comfortably saw off South Korea 3-0.
Abby Wambach missed a penalty for the USA in their last-16 match against Colombia. But goals from Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd set up a quarter-final meet in Ottawa with China who beat Cameroon.
The last quarter-final to take place will be in Vancouver between hosts Canada and England, who came from behind to beat Norway 2-1. Around 53,000 fans watched as Canada beat Swizterland 1-0.
FIFA announced on Tuesday that more than 50,000 tickets for the match at BC Place had already been sold.
The two sides met before the World Cup in a friendly where Canada triumphed 1-0. Victory may be harder to ensure this time around with England fired up from their first ever triumph in a World Cup knockout round.
Back in Great Britain, national broadcaster BBC announced that the match would be shown on primetime channel BBC One so whatever the result, the viewing figures should prove a massive boost to the profile of women’s football and increase its value.