Sunday, November 29, 2020

Heartache for Japan as Netherlands progress

Japan crash out of the World Cup despite a fantastic appearance in the final round of 16 clash against Netherlands. It took an 89th minute penalty for the Dutch as they eventually run out 2-1 winners in Rennes.

For me, this was one of the games of the tournament. In the early going, Netherlands were the better side as they created numerous chances throughout the first half hour. Vivianne Miedema wasn’t at her best and only had one real chance in the game, which she failed to take early on.

Netherlands did manage to make their early pressure count as they took the lead 17 minutes in through Lieke Martens. Danielle Van de Donk whipped in a brilliant low corner to the front post which Martens ran onto. She flicked it beautifully toward the far post, beating the goalkeeper and putting Holland firmly in the driving seat.

Japan began to grow into the game as their brilliant technical ability shone through. The passing triangles were, at times, too much for Netherlands to handle and in the 43rd minute, they managed to make their good work count. After some lovely play on the edge of the box from the forwards as they passed it between them, Yui Hasegawa found herself with the ball in the area. With only a split second to get her shot away, Hasegawa dug the ball out very nicely and hammered it into the roof of the net. All square at the break.

In the second period, Japan were fantastic. The football they played was, at times, totally mesmeric. The short, sharp passes as they played out from the back won the adoration of the neutrals in the ground as the tide slowly began to turn in their favour. Japan built up more and more pressure on the Netherlands, with it all coming to a head in a ten minute spell of utter domination.

Japan on their way home

During this spell they had four or five fantastic opportunities to take the lead as Hasegawa saw another effort fly millimetres past the far post. Then, Mana Iwabuchi latched onto a great ball over the top as she ran to the byline in the area – she hammered an effort into the side netting despite a pull-back to Yuika Sugasawa seemingly the better decision. Japan weren’t finished there either as Yuka Momiki saw an effort brilliantly saved by Sari Van Veenendaal before blowing another great chance minutes later.

In the end, Japan were made to pay for their poor finishing. With the Netherlands boosted following their survival of a Japanese onslaught, they began to push forward again. They worked the ball into the box and the ball fell to Miedema, she picked it up and fired a powerful effort towards goal. Her strike was blocked by the arm of Saki Kumagai and the ref showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Lieke Martens stepped up to take the penalty and with no problems at all, she sent the keeper the wrong way for her second of the game.

The penalty decision, although correct, was incredibly harsh. Kumagai was less than a metre away from Miedema when the ball was struck, there was no way she could ever get her arm out of the way. Her arm wasn’t even in an unnatural position either – but under the new laws, it’s still a penalty. What are defenders to do? Defend with their arms behind their backs at all time? It’s just not feasible – they really need to take another look at that rule.

Despite another late flurry which saw an effort cleared off the line, Japan couldn’t find an equaliser. They crash out of the tournament in the most heartbreaking of circumstances but ultimately, they were made to pay for not taking their chances.

Netherlands will progress to the quarter-finals and will face today’s other winning side Italy in Valenciennes on Saturday.

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