After lighting up FIFA Women's World Cup, perhaps 2023 just was not Japan's time yet

After lighting up the FIFA Women's World Cup, Japan's dream run has come to an end in the quarterfinals after a 2-1 loss to Sweden on Friday. AP Photo/Abbie Parr

For the 450 minutes or so that Japan graced the massive stage that is the FIFA Women's World Cup, few would argue they have not been one of the most exciting sides at the tournament.

Barring an hour or so in Friday's quarterfinal against Sweden, where they were uncharacteristically hesitant, lacklustre and even passive.

Unfortunately for Nadeshiko, those 60 minutes were ultimately pivotal as it was the period where the Swedes would establish a two-goal lead that proved crucial in a 2-1 victory that saw them advance to the last four -- despite a stirring rally from the Japanese.

With their WWC hopes fast evaporating, Japan finally got back to being Japan in the final half-hour of Friday's contest.

They started moving the ball methodically and ventured forward with intent.

They really should have pulled one back earlier when Riko Ueki smashed a penalty off the bar. Aoba Fujino was tremendously unlucky not to score with a superb freekick that hit the post and somehow stayed out after ricocheting off the back of Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic and finding the woodwork a second time.

And then when substitute Honoka Hayashi reacted quickest to pounce on a loose ball to smash an effort past Musovic in the 87th minute, it looked like an almighty comeback was on the cards. Especially when ten minutes of added time were signalled shortly after.

In the end, though, it was to be a case of too little too late for Japan.

Understandably, there was no shortage of tears flowing at the final whistle. Despite the best efforts of the gracious victors, many in the Japanese camp were inconsolable -- and they might be for days and weeks to come.

Nadeshiko will lament their poor start to the contest against Sweden, which was the only time in their entire campaign where they have looked off the pace. They will rue missing that extra bit of fortune from the way the woodwork emerged as the Swedes' last line of defence when Musovic and company were beaten.

As the final former champions remaining in the draw prior to their defeat, they would have been believing they were a genuine chance to emulate their previous triumph from 2011.

Yet, when the dust eventually settles, the Japanese can be extremely proud of their efforts while also acknowledging that maybe 2023 was not their time.

Just not yet.

Even before the tournament kicked off, there were queries over where Japan genuinely ranked among the other title contenders. Any doubts fast evaporated with each dominant win they racked up in the group stage and then the round of 16.

But perhaps they exceeded expectations and finishing as quarterfinalists is roughly where they are at right now.

It is worth noting that Japan's squad at this World Cup has an average age of just 24.9 years. By no means were they a vastly experienced outfit perfectly primed for a charge at the trophy.

From their entire 23-player roster, only captain Saki Kumagai - at 32 - is a major doubt when the next Women's World Cup rolls around in four years' time.

Yui Hasegawa, who almost singlehandedly led Nadeshiko's comeback attempt against the Swedes, should be in her prime come 2027 at the age of 30. The same could be the case for her central midfield partner Fuka Nagano, two years her junior.

Breakout stars Hinata Miyazawa and Jun Endo are both still 23, while Fujino was a fixture in coach Futoshi Ikeda's starting XI at just the age of 19.

The future looks exceedingly bright for the Japanese even if the present has delivered a heartbreaking quarterfinal exit at the Women's World Cup.

2023 will not be Japan's time. 2027 could yet be.