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Japan beats Canada late to sweep two-game set

Japan midfielder Asano Nagasato (20) celebrates her goal against Canada during the first half at BC Place. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Japan midfielder Asano Nagasato (20) celebrates her goal against Canada during the first half at BC Place. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

VANCOUVER, Canada — Aya Sameshima scored a stoppage time goal on Tuesday at BC Place in Vancouver to lift reigning world champion Japan past 2015 World Cup host Canada, 3-2. It was Japan’s second victory in four days over Canada.

Sophie Schmidt scored a second-half brace that was cancelled out by an equally impressive stoppage time goal from Aya Sameshima. Asano Nagasoto opened the scoring with a brilliant first half strike, and Yuki Ogimi showed an impressive display of skill with her second goal against Canada in as many matches.

Canada coach John Herdman was pleased with the amount of chances Canada created against Japan and feels his team should have been ahead early in the first half if not for some suspect finishing.

“I think in the first 15 minutes, we should have been two up. We had two great chances and I thought we started the game brighter than we did the other day,” he said. “We got caught with their quality in the first 10 minutes in Edmonton and that really set the tone for the game. We started brightly and then we had a little bit of a lull, we started to get that stretch again, the back and the front started disconnecting. Once they connected again and got tight and started to hunt together, the team looks like a true Canadian team that can go out and win the World Cup.”

Japan defeated Canada, 3-0 on Saturday in Edmonton. Japan coach Norio Sasaki made nine changes to his team on Tuesday, while Canada coach John Herdman made five swaps.

[MORE: Canada still searching for strike partner for Sinclair]

Stephanie Labbe made her 10th career start in goal for Canada. Emily Zurrer and Rachel Quon played on the back line, while 16-year-old Jessie Fleming and Desiree Scott checked into the midfield in Canada’s familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. The only change on offense came with Adriana Leon replacing Josee Belanger.

Japan coach Norio Sasaki. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Japan coach Norio Sasaki. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Asano Nagasato put Japan ahead in the 33rd minute on a stunning strike, firing a left-footed half-volley off the underside of the crossbar and into the net. The goal came after a flurry of early wasted chances, many created by 16-year-old midfielder Jessie Fleming.

Schmidt put Canada ahead in the 59th minute and the ball hit off the head of Mizuho Sakaguchi and went into the net. Schmidt had collected the ball on a short corner kick.

Japan equalized on another stunning strike in the 76th minute. Kadeisha Buchanan mis-cleared the ball, and Yuki Ogimi swept in and cracked a sliding volley from 18 yards out.

Schmidt would strike the equalizer two minutes into stoppage time after Labbé knocked a free kick toward Christine Sinclair, who flicked it on toward Schmidt.

Schmidt talked about the positives and all of the scoring chances Canada created against Japan in the pair of friendlies. While Canada isn’t happy with the finishing they’ve shown, Schmidt believes it will eventually come.

“We walk away discouraged that we lost,” she said.”It’s a little bit disheartening because you want to win in Canada, in front of your fans. You want to give them something to be excited about, but there’s a lot of good things we walk away with. We shut down Japan really well, we limited their chances.”

Fleming had a lot of energy and jump in her sixth cap for Canada. She broke in on the left flank and attempted to chip Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto. Fleming also played a terrific through ball over the top to Christine Sinclair in the 16th minute. Fleming’s ball skills, and vision at such a young age have impressed everyone she comes across on and off the pitch. The London, Ontario native was causing trouble with her quickness all over the pitch. She talked about what it was like playing against the no.3 ranked team in the world.

“Yeah, I’m definitely disappointed that I didn’t finish one of those off and that’s something I need to work on,” Fleming said. “I think there’s a lot of positives to take away from the game. We just played one of the best teams in the world. As much as we would have liked to have won, I think there’s a lot of reflecting we can do. We can work on the negatives things but also focus on what we did right.”

Christine Sinclair was surrounded by blue whenever she got the ball. Japan did well to mark, and swarm Sinclair in the first half. Her time and space was greatly reduced and her attempts on target were lacking quality. Sinclair was full of praise for Jessie Fleming following the match.

“Oh my god, she’s incredible,” Fleming said. “I don’t think anything phases her. Playing against some of the best midfielders in the world, she held her own. She was unlucky a little bit, she could have had a couple of goals, I think.”

Sophie Schmidt scored twice for Canada on Tuesday. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Sophie Schmidt scored twice for Canada on Tuesday. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

On her 212th cap, Sinclair found Leon midway through the first half, and Leon curled her shot just over the top left corner of the Japan net. In a first half with multiple missed chances, Fleming was the best player for Canada.

Fleming had another wonderful chance to score her first goal as she came charging into the Japanese box with a header early in the second half. Japan’s defense was able to deny Fleming, but Canada kept coming and they found the equalizer in the 58′.

Schmidt came into the match leading Canada with four international goals this year and she added to that., firing a low shot on target that deflected off Japanese defender Mizuho Sakaguchi and past Fukumoto.

Ogimi scored the first goal of these series in Edmonton and she took advantage of an awful missed clearance by Kadeisha Buchanan to score once again in the 76th minute. The Chelsea Ladies striker got behind Buchanan and raced behind her to get the ball. She played a half-volley over an on rushing Stephanie Labbe to put Japan ahead 2-1.

Ogimi has been the most dangerous player for Japan in these two matches and she described her strategy against Canada and what she was thinking as she found herself in a prime position to score against Labbe.

“I had expected before the game that their line is so high, so their weak point is behind the defensive line,” Ogimi said. “My teammate gave me a great ball and the defense had made a mistake to clear and yeah I just had to score. Maybe if I take two touches, I couldn’t score.”

Herdman’s side showed that they can compete with Japan for almost an entire match. The chances Canada created were plentiful, but the final touch just wasn’t there. Sophie Schmidt, and Jessie Fleming played extremely well, but the defensive errors were costly and you simply can’t make those against a team of Japan’s quality.

Canada Starting XI: Stephanie Labbe; Rhian Wilkinson, Kadeisha Buchanan, Emily Zurrer, Rachel Quon; Jessie Fleming, Desiree Scott; Sophie Schmidt, Adriana Leon, Christine Sinclair(C); Melissa Tancredi. (4-2-3-1)

Japan Starting XI: Miho Fukumoto(C); Saori Ariyoshi, Azusa Iwashimizu, Saki Kumagi, Megumi Kamionobe; Mizuho Sakaguchi, Asano Nagasato, Asuna Tanaka; Megumi Takase, Yukia Sagasawa, Mana Iwabuchi. (4-3-3)

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