England’s World Cup dream lay shattered in one of the cruelest ways. With 30 seconds left and the match poised at 1-1, Japan’s Nahomi Kawusumi unleashed an excellent curling ball for some of her colleagues to tap it into the goal but in trying to clear that cross, England’s Laura Basset sliced it into her own goal. With the final whistle being blown soon after, it was all over for England. Until then, Mark Sampson’s Lionesses had conducted themselves excellently and their defense was particularly solid. Japan looked technically accomplished but their penetrating forward line was thwarted by England time and time again. It was one of those rare matches, in which the result did not come from field efforts of either side but brought about by two dubious penalties during the first half and an own goal in the end. Japan had thus entered their second successive final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and they will play against USA at Vancouver in a repeat of the 2011 final. England’s performance was superb all through and on several occasions, they looked a better team. In a space of 7 minutes in the first half, Aya Miyama for Japan and Fara Williams for England converted penalties awarded to their teams in debatable circumstances and with no other goals accruing, the match was destined for another 30 minutes of extra time. But in stoppage time, England got patently unlucky, when Laura Basset tried to clear a cross and ended up sending the ball into her own goal. As tears rolled down Bassett’s face, the final whistle blew and immediately thereafter, Basset was engulfed by team-mates, desperate to offer her a consolatory hug.
In less than 30 seconds from kick-off, England’s Jodie Taylor shot hard into the Japanese goal but the ball narrowly missed the target. In the next few minutes, both teams made attempts in each other’s goal but the targets remained elusive. England had their chances through Toni Duggan, whose shot sailed over the bar while there was no one to tap Jill Scott’s cross a few minutes later. After 30 minutes of evenly played game, Japan mounted a forceful attack, which culminated with Azusa Iwashimizu sending a promising long ball to Saori Ariyoshi. The Japanese forward drew a foul on Claire Rafferty, who appeared to have brought down Ariyoshi from behind. TV replays seemed to suggest that the first contact was not in penalty area but the referee Anna-Marie Keighley promptly awarded a penalty to Japan. England supporters hooted the decision as Aya Miyama placed the ball on the spot. She took her time before dancing her way to the ball and outfoxing Karen Bardsley. Japan went ahead 1-0. While English fans continued to rue the questionable decision, England equalized 7 minutes later from another piece of debatable decision by the referee. When England captain Steph Houghton fell down in the box, Japan’s Yuki Ogimi was singled out for the foul. In any case, England won the return penalty and Fara Williams did what Aya Miyama had done for Japan.
Beginning the second half at 1-1, the two teams played desperately for the crucial goal. Japan were the first to come close to scoring but soon England went into an offensive in the 62nd minute, when Toni Duggan fired a stinging volley but it got deflected off the crossbar. Then in the 66th minute, Jill Scott missed an open goal, when a corner came to her. Japan brought Mana Iwabuchi in the 70th minute and she got to work straightaway. Despite attacks and counter-attacks, no goals could be scored by either team. With the clock ticking away, both teams raised the tempo of the game in a bid to find the match-winner. To their credit, England prevented all Japanese forays in the dying minutes and as two minutes were added to the regulation time, everyone thought of the ensuing 30 minutes of extra time. But Japan had fortune in their favor as a winning goal came to them in an extraordinary way. Japan’s Nahomi Kawusumi delivered a brilliant curling cross and while no Japanese player could reach there, Laura Bassett attempted a brave sliding clearance. She got unlucky as the ball crashed off the underside of the bar and sailed over the goal-line. While Basset had only her tears, England’s dreams of the first ever final in the World Cup lay in a heap.
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