Wambach sets up World Cup final meeting for US against Japan
Japan and the United States set up a clash for the biggest prize in women's football after seeing off European hopefuls Sweden and France by identical 3-1 scorelines in Wednesday's semi-finals at the World Cup.
Asian hopefuls Japan emphatically beat Sweden in Frankfurt while earlier the United States used their vast experience to get past France in Moenchengladbach.
Despite their nickname Nadeshiko — a pink flower symbolising grace and beauty — the Japanese are proving no pushovers at Germany 2011 having beaten the hosts and two-time defending champions in the quarter-finals, and are now through to their first final.
Striker Josefine Oqvist had opened for Sweden after ten minutes but striker Nahomi Kawasumi netted goals either side of half-time while Japan captain Homare Sawa capped another impressive display with her fourth goal in five games.
Earlier goals from Lauren Cheney (9), Abby Wambach (79), and Alex Morgan (82) kept the Americans' bid for an unprecedented third title after 1991 and 1999 on track. Sonia Bompastor got a goal back for France after 55 minutes.
"They had the advantage of their history, it's their sixth semi-final in six editions of the World Cup," said France captain Sandrine Soubeyrand.
"That made the difference. They were more efficient then us, we had a lot of chances. What we achieved will hit me later but now I'm just frustrated by the match. We need to move up another level."
"It was our experience that won it," said US striker Wambach, whose side are through to their first final in 12 years.
"For about 50 minutes they (France) set the tone and had the advantage and I was really asking myself how we could score."
Despite the French having most shots at goal it was the United States who went into the locker room with the half-time advantage after Cheney picked up a Heather O'Reilly cross to tap effortlessly into goal after nine minutes.
But Bompastor grabbed the equaliser after 55 minutes as her shot flew past a waiting Gaetane Thiney in the box to curl in off the far post and into the net.
And for the second straight game Wambach scored a decisive header, this time after 79 minutes as she rose high to blast a Cheney corner past France goalie Berangere Sapowicz who was left helpless again three minutes later by a goal from substitute Morgan.
US coach Pia Sundhage said she made tactical errors, but the decision to bring on substitute midfielder Megan Rapinoe had proved decisive.
"I made some tactical errors today, but my coaching staff gave me a hand and switched the midfield around just when France were playing their best football," said Sundhage.
France coach Bruno Bini added: "I'm proud of my players. We came close to winning. The team were nearly there, but the goal didn’t come and you just have accept it."
In Frankfurt, there was no hint of the Japanese domination to come when Oqvist drilled home her shot after 10 minutes past Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.
Her strike took a deflection off the boot of Japan defender Saki Kumagai, which lifted the ball out of Kaihori's reach, but the Asians were level soon after having noticeably raised their game in front of the 45,434 crowd.
Midfielder Aya Miyama drilled in a cross and Kawasumi wove her way through several Swedish defenders to scramble the ball home on 19 minutes.
With Sweden failing to put any consistent pressure on the Japan goal, the Nadeshiko put the game beyond their reach with two goals in four minutes.
Sawa, one of the stars of this tournament, headed home after a goal-mouth scramble on the hour mark, her fourth in five games here.
With the Swedish defence all at sea, the Japanese capitalised when midfielder Kozue Ando forced Hedvig into a hasty clearance kick and Kawasumi scored her second of the game when she lobbed her shot into an empty goal from 40 yards on 64 minutes.
The world No 1 United States team, who are also the reigning and three-time Olympic champions, meet fourth-ranked Japan in the final on Sunday.
Published: July 14, 2011 04:00 AM