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Kerr Hat Trick Sends Australia Sailing Past Japan

It’s Sam Kerr’s world, and Japan was just living in it. The Japanese got off to a great start with an early lead, but a first-half hat trick for Kerr effectively put the game away.

Australia got into the attack early, earning a corner within the first minute, but it was Japan who struck first. In the 6th minute, Alanna Kennedy got caught in possession in her defensive half and had her pocket picked by Mina Tanaka. Goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold came off her line to make the save. Japan went short on the ensuing corner, and after a glancing header and a deflection off Tanaka, she had her goal.

After that, the game was nearly entirely Australia. They dominated possession and beat Japan to most of the second balls. They would respond to the goal just five minutes later. Kennedy sent a long ball wide on the right flank for Hayley Raso, who slotted a great ball across the face of net for an open Kerr. Goalkeeper Sakiko Ikeda couldn’t recover from tracking the cross at near post, and it was an easy tap-in for Kerr to equalize.

Another five minutes, and Kerr struck again. This time she did all the work as she stole the ball around midfield and took off down the pitch. With two Japanese defenders closing and Ikeda coming off her line to close down the angle, Kerr aimed for far post and sent it sailing past Ikeda’s outstretched hands.

Kerr looked to repeat the goal in the 25th minute but sent her shot low, and Ikeda came up with a big save. Tanaka, who would remain the focus of Japan’s offense, tried to go for goal a few minutes later but was denied by Steph Catley. After that, the half belonged to Kerr and company, with Catley, Chloe Logarzo, and Katrina Gorry all having a goal. However, it was once again Kerr who found the back of the net, in the 43rd minute.

The forward was played in and broke free of her defenders. Ikeda did well to come out and block the initial shot, but her rebound fell nearly directly back to Kerr, who took a few touches to collect and coolly slid it home for the first international hat trick of her career.

In the 45th minute, Japan gave up a free kick just on top of the box. Emily Gielnik went direct and whacked it off the crossbar, coming close to finding Australia’s fourth just at halftime.

The second half started out with a lull, although Emily Van Egmond looked to be hunting for a goal for herself. Again, it was Japan with the first real chance of the half, missing what looked like a for sure second goal.

Tanaka took it down the left flank with plenty of room and sent in a beautiful cross to the feet of Emi Nakajima. Unfortunately, the midfielder couldn’t get a good touch, and Australia was able to clear.

A minute later, Japan was called for a handball in the box. Van Egmond stepped to the spot and put it away to put the Matildas up by three. Australia looked several times to have a fifth goal in them, with both Lisa De Vanna and Tameka Butt missing by inches, but it was Japan with the final goal.

In the second minute of stoppage time, Yuka Momiki fired a rocket from inside the box, deflecting off an Australian defender and catching Arnold by surprise for a late consolation goal.

Australia now sits in first place with six points and will win the tournament if they draw or defeat Brazil on Thursday. Japan has one point from their draw with Brazil and faces the US for their last match of the tournament.

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