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Japan rides two goals from Kawasumi to World Cup final

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Associated Press
7/13/2011 5:02:17 PM
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FRANKFURT, Germany -- Captain Homare Sawa redeemed herself from a huge error by scoring the go-ahead goal in a 3-1 victory over Sweden that put Japan in the World Cup final against the United States.

On top of that, Nahomi Kawasumi rewarded her surprise call-up in the starting lineup with two goals, which more than compensated for the early score of Sweden's Josefine Oqvist.

Kawasumi had just played 29 minutes in the tournament before coach Norio Sasaki started her in Japan's biggest game ever.

"She is very tough and fit," he said. "I didn't ask her to score two goals but she did an excellent job."

In a battle of Japan's fine skills against the thrust and hustle of Sweden, the match totally turned in the second half when Kawasumi caught Hedvig Lindahl off her line and lobbed her from 35 metres for the third goal, one of the best in a tournament full of excellent strikes.

Sawa's goal also gave her four for the tournament to tie her with Brazil's Marta. Sawa, though, still has one game left to become the top scorer of her fifth World Cup.

Sweden, a perennial power in women's soccer, never gave up but it was the rising force of Asian soccer, Japan, which reached its first World Cup final.

The Japanese always had more on their mind than just the game in this tournament. In the wake of the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, they wanted to provide a feel-good story for fans back home.

And they came through.

After their win they again unfurled a huge banner that said "To our Friends Around the World -- Thank You for Your Support," referring to the global outpouring of aid after the tsunami, that left nearly 23,000 dead or missing.

"What we have been doing so far is very good for Japan," Sasaki said. "We are still recovering from the disaster. There were so many victims. ... Even little things, like a win, can give people courage and hope."

When faced against favoured Germany in the quarter-finals, Sasaki showed them heart-tugging pictures from the victims of the tsunami shortly before the game to give them more determination. He didn't need it again on Wednesday.

Even though it was Sweden that got the first goal.

Sawa, one of the best players of the championship, made an uncharacteristic error in the 10th and fed a defensive pass straight to Oqvist. She gladly took it, ran through the defence and got a lucky deflection to bury the ball past goalie Ayumi Kaihori.

Many in the crowd of 45,434 at the Commerzbank Arena thought Sweden would let its vast experience count from then on. That was hardly the case.

Japan got back into the game only nine minutes later when Kawasumi somehow got a foot on a cross from star Aya Miyama and pushed it through the legs of keeper Hedvig Lindahl.

"Tonight, the Japanese were a bit more eager to win," Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby said.

Sawa, still a standout at 32 in her fifth World Cup, then got redemption in the 59th minute when Lindahl missed a ball in the goalmouth and allowed Sawa to head home.

Kawasumi's standout goal gave the victory even more shine.

The United States beat France 3-1 in Moenchengladbach earlier on Wednesday.

Sweden got a huge setback just moments before the match when trusty midfield captain Caroline Seger had to be pulled off the lineup because an old calf injury played up again.

"It can happen with your team. You have to handle that as a team and we didn't today," Dennerby said.

After the setback of the early goal, Japan methodically got back into the game with short passing combinations which have come to be their trademark.

To offset such play, Sweden sought to be as direct as possible heaving many deep balls to Lotta Schelin, but the star striker too often fell into Japan's offside trap.

Sweden hasn't beaten Japan in 15 years, with the Nadeshiko winning two of the last four meetings.

The rain had been pouring down all day in Frankfurt, so organizers pulled out the retractable roof and the players found perfect conditions by game time.

Nahomi Kawasumi (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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