Japan scored twice in the first half and withstood Canada’s efforts in the second to walk away with three points from their opening match of the Olympics. The defending world champions looked to return to World Cup form after looking shaky in recent friendlies, and the return of their possession game will surely settle any nerves that might have lingered as Japan entered the tournament.
Canada maintained its physical game, not only escaping a potential penalty kick for Japan early in the game but also a few potential yellow cards. Lauren Sesselmann in particular was lucky to avoid a yellow after a late challenge in the 21st minute with her cleats up. Japan adapted quickly to the referee’s decision to allow play to continue by returning the favor and upping their physicality, an uncommon sight from Norio Sasaki’s side.
Japan’s first goal in the 33rd minute was a powerful strike from Nahomi Kawasumi from a sharp angle, after a perfect set up from Shinobu Ohno. Christine Sinclair tried to quickly equalize for Canada, but was shut down twice by the Japanese defense. The first half was mostly quiet for Sinclair, which did not bode well for Canada’s chances.
The half concluded with Japan’s second goal, which provided enough of a buffer to give them the eventual win. Aya Miyama found the back of the net in the 44th minute, scoring off a header powered by all 5’2” of her height. Canadian keeper Erin McLeod had come off the line to clear the ball, but every Canadian defender mistimed their leaps which allowed a well-positioned Miyama to find the ball in the air.
After a brilliant (if perhaps questionable) clearance off the line by Sesselman of Yuki Ogimi chance in the 51st minute, Canada managed to get one back four minutes later. After a play generated by Diana Matheson and Rhian Wilkinson down the right wing, Melissa Tancredi scored from close range after beating defender Yukari Kinga and pushed it past Japan’s Fukumoto for Canada’s lone goal.
Canada did well to try and claw their way out of the deficit for the final portion of the game, but the equalizer proved elusive. Canada plays South Africa on Saturday, then faces Sweden in what could be a crucial game for Group F.
Japan’s return to form will spell trouble for the United States and the other expected top teams of the Olympic tournament. With victories for Japan, the United States, Brazil, and Sweden, the first day of the group
stages has only confirmed the main contenders for the Gold. France still must be counted amongst the top tier of talent, despite being on the losing end of the United States’ comeback. Host nation Great Britain also looked
solid on the first day of play.
While there might not have been any surprises in the scorelines, there will be plenty to reassess for all the teams after getting the first taste of Olympic play. Japan faces Sweden next, then finishes their group matches against South Africa on Tuesday, July 31st.
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