Japan pulls off upset of Germany
WOLFSBURG Germany -- Japan knocked two-time defending champion Germany out of the Women's World Cup on Saturday, advancing to the semifinals with a 1-0 win when substitute Karina Maruyama outran the defense and scored on an angled shot in extra time.
Japan absorbed relentless pressure during the match, gaining its first World Cup semifinal and handing Germany its first loss in the tournament in a dozen years.
Standout midfielder Homare Sawa spotted Maruyama's deep run in the 108th minute, served her perfectly and Maruyama slipped it past goalie Nadine Angerer to silence the sellout crowd of 26,067 and an expectant nation.
"I saw her running, I saw the gap in the defense and I gave the assist," Sawa said.
The 32-year-old's field vision and precision passing earned her player of the match award.
"I take my hat off to her," said Germany coach Silvia Neid. "It is her fifth World Cup and she still plays so well."
Germany threw everything forward in the final dozen minutes, but it didn't matter. As throughout the tension-filled match, the bounces didn't go the hosts' way.
"I am so happy. We all fought together until the end," Maruyama said. "It was not my success, but that of the whole team."
Germany's fear of elimination appeared to douse its creativity and the quarterfinal turned into a test of survival. In the end it was the "Japanese game" that coach Norio Sasaki promised that made the difference -- one precision pass and lightness of feet outdid two hours of grinding and pushing by the hosts.
Germany had not lost a World Cup game going back to a quarterfinal defeat to the United States in 1999.
The loss also meant the likely end of the World Cup career of Birgit Prinz, Germany's best player and the tournament's all-time leading scorer. After two disappointing games, she was benched for the last group game and again in the quarterfinal. She came off to shake hands.
After the game, the Japanese players united behind a Japanese banner saying, "To our friends around the world -- Thank you for your support," recognizing the global aid in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March.
"Our playing is to be an encouragement for the victims of the disaster," Sasaki said.
Germany's tactical plans had already gone awry after four minutes when midfielder Kim Kulig hurt her right knee as she was going for a header that just went over. Neid was counting on Kulig's ball-winning skills, but instead immediately had to replace her.
"It was a shock for us," Neid said.
Germany was piling early pressure with high balls, yet after 20 minutes, things slowly started to turn.
The fervor went out of the capacity crowd and Japan got a foothold in midfield.
Unlike its loss to England in the last group game, Japan was able to deal with the physical pressure Germany was throwing at it and their defenders put a foot in as often as the Germans did.
Early in the second half, Germany threatened again when Yukari Kinga kicked a ball off the line after Simone Laudehr's header. Yet Japan refused to crack under the pressure, even if it was forced to concede two yellow cards.
Sawa kept her team composed and set up chances for attack with a close control game and precision passing.
Soon, the mighty Germans were kicking the ball out of their penalty area in panic and with 15 minutes to go, the quarterfinal was anyone's match with two tired teams chasing each and every ball.
"Our players were forced to be patient and wait for their opportunity," Sasaki said.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press