World champion Japan moved to the brink of a World Cup-Olympic double with a 2-1 victory over France in Monday’s first semifinal. Japan scored goals off set pieces in both halves and then dodged a bullet when France captain Elise Bussaglia sent a would-be equalize wide from the penalty spot.
Japan took the lead in the 32nd when Aya Miyama sent a long free kick to the top of the six. French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi came off her line and had no excuse for not making a clean catch on it. Instead Bouhaddi put a bad punch on it and the ball wound up behind her where Yuki Ogimi alertly guided it into the net.
Shortly after halftime the Japanese doubled their lead through another Miyama free kick. This one was gloriously taken and when Sandrine Soubeyrand left her mark it allowed Mizuho Sakaguchi to get a head on it. The 24-year old did not miss, scoring on a dynamic head ball to make it 2-0 in the 49th minute.
France got on the board with a quarter hour to go. Marie-Laure Delie sent a ball wide right to Elodie Thomas. She was able to sneak a return ball through a poorly positioned Japanese defense and Eugenie Le Sommer ran onto it and did not miss the finish.
Less than three minutes later De Sommer was tripped in the top corner of the penalty box by Sakaguchi. The play drew a penalty kick, but Elise Bussaglia’s spot kick went wide right.
The French swarmed the Japan goal for much of the remaining time but did not again see a chance quite as inviting as the one from the spot. They will play for the Bronze medal after losing in the semifinal for the second consecutive world tournament.
Japan meanwhile is back in a world final and will be trying to join the United States as the only female footballing nation to hold the World and Olympic championships simultaneously.
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