Soccer

Soccer: Women's World Cup | Japan 1, Germany 0

Japan’s Late Goal Shocks Germany

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Japan scored one of the biggest upsets in the history of women’s soccer Saturday, defeating the two-time defending champion Germany, 1-0, in overtime of the World Cup quarterfinals and thwarting German expectations of winning a third title on home soil.

Jens Meyer/Associated Press

Japan's Kozue Ando, front, celebrated with Mizuho Sakaguchi after Japan eliminated Germany.

Goal

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In the 108th minute, the substitute forward Karina Maruyama took a diagonal pass from midfielder Homare Sawa and put an acutely angled shot past German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. It was the latest goal ever scored in a Women’s World Cup match and one of the most stunningly decisive.

Germany’s players and 26,067 fans were left in disbelief in Wolfsburg, Germany, as Japan advanced to Wednesday’s semifinals to face Sweden or Australia, who will meet in a quarterfinal Sunday.

Japan’s victory came nearly four months after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the country’s northeast coast, killing more than 15,000 people. Players expressed hope in May during a pair of exhibitions in the United States that their country might take some hope and consolation from the soccer team’s perseverance.

“Our playing is to be an encouragement for the victims of the disaster,” Coach Norio Sasaki said after Saturday’s victory.

Saturday’s other quarterfinal match also came to a protracted and tense conclusion as France defeated England, 4-3, on penalty kicks after the score remained tied, 1-1, through overtime. In the semifinals, France will face the United States or Brazil, who meet in the quarterfinals Sunday.

Germany had not lost in 15 World Cup matches since a 3-2 defeat to the Americans in the 1999 quarterfinals. Saturday’s defeat brought a deflating end to the celebrative atmosphere that had accompanied the tournament around Germany the past two weeks. The women’s team had become front-page news and as many as 20 million of the country’s 80 million citizens had been expected to watch Saturday’s match, ESPN commentators said.

Japan is ranked fourth in the world and is the only Asian nation to participate in all six Women’s World Cups. Still, it was given little chance of winning in the quarterfinals. Yet it played with crisp ball possession, overcame Germany’s considerable height advantage, stifled its counterattack and remained composed as the home team desperately searched for an equalizing goal in the game’s final minutes.

Goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori had sometimes been unreliable against balls played in the air, but she was impassable Saturday as Japan reached the semifinals for the first time and won its first  match against a European team after a previous record of 0-8-1.

Minutes into the match, things began to go wrong for Germany. Midfielder Kim Kulig wrenched a knee, which forced her out of the match and left the champions curiously docile. Perhaps Germany was tired or feeling enormous pressure to succeed with an entire nation paying close attention.

Or perhaps Coach Silvia Neid made a tactical mistake, using a pair of defensive substitutions while leaving the attack-minded winger Fatmire Bajramaj and forward Birgit Prinz, the Women’s World Cup’s career-leading scorer with 14 goals, on the bench.

In any case, Germany played with a lack of urgency until the end. Its muscle could not overcome the precision and equanimity of Japan, whose most important victory came 22 years after the Japanese formed a women’s soccer league.

The women’s game staggered there after Japan failed to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but talent is now sufficiently bountiful to export players to professional leagues in the United States and Germany. Sawa, the captain whose brilliant assist provided Saturday’s only goal, is playing in her fifth World Cup and scored a hat trick in group play against Mexico.

The Japanese team is nicknamed Nadeshiko after a kind of dianthus flower. Its uniforms bear a pink swath to represent the flower and the notion that the players represent the ideal Japanese woman. Sasaki, the coach, has said that the flower also possesses a hardiness found in his players. That resilience was tested by the March earthquake and tsunami that left soccer and other Japanese sports at a standstill. The club team TEPCO Mareeze, located in a damaged area,  suspended play for the season; one of its defenders, Aya Sameshima, who played Saturday against Germany, relocated last month to the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer.

Sawa, the captain, told the Web site espnW in May, “We try to show our attitude of ‘never give up.’ ” Perhaps, she said, the team could encourage “the people hit by the tsunami that they can survive if they can also never give up.”

After Saturday’s victory, players gathered by a banner that said in Japanese, “To our friends around the world — thank you for your support.”

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