Japan 2-1 England
Wow. Words cannot describe how England crashed out of the World Cup. As a nation, England have had more than their fair share of major tournament defeats on the men's side, and now the women can join in on that awful reputation.
Both sides scored from the spot in the first half, and both penalties were borderline calls. Japan got theirs first. In the 32nd minute, Saori Ariyoshi was making a run into the penalty area when she was challenged awkwardly by Claire Rafferty on the edge of the box. The challenge rightfully drew a whistle, but was on the very edge of the penalty area. It was more of a correct call than the one that gave the USA their first goal last night, but it was still very close. Aya Miyama confidently scored from the spot to put Japan ahead.
England stormed back and earned a PK of their own in the 39th minute. Sarah Houghton went down while chasing a free kick into the box to draw the whistle. It may have been a dive, but I am willing to give the referee the benefit of the doubt. Fara Williams buried her shot to make it 1-1 going into the break.
In the second half, England was the better team. They hit the woodwork twice. They had a couple shots trail inches wide. Meanwhile, Japan could barely muster any possession to mount a real attack. Things were rushing towards extra time until well into the three minutes of stoppage time. Japan was getting a rare break and a chance on England's goal. The cross came in towards the box and England's Laura Bassett reached her toe out to try and clear, but her clearance was directed right at goal. After hitting the crossbar, the ball bounded over the goal line to put Japan into the final.
I hate to poke fun at such a tragic defeat, but it might have been the most England way to lose ever. Even when compared with the series of penalty shootout losses in both the World Cup and European Championships, the England women found a new way to shoot themselves in the foot.
But you can't help but feel awful for those women. They went toe to toe with the defending world champions for 90 minutes. In the second half they were the better team, and really deserved to win. Instead, they crash out in the worst way possible. Anyone not actively cheering for Japan, and maybe even a few Japanese supporters, has to feel sympathetic towards the Three Lionesses after this one. The progressed further than any England team of any gender has gone in any World Cup in almost 50 years, but they really should have gone even further.
On to the positive. Japan will face the USA in a rematch of the 2011 final. Japan took that one in penalties to win their first ever Women's World Cup. The USA got revenge in the 2012 Olympic Final with a 2-1 win, but they are seeking the ultimate prize this time. The 2011 Final was one of the greatest matches I have ever seen, so this one has a lot to live up to. The USA are the favorites, but Japan is nothing to take lightly. Kickoff is Sunday at 7pm from Vancouver.