FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal: Japan v Sweden; Where: Eden Park, Auckland; When: Friday 7.30pm; Coverage: Live on Sky Sport 1, Prime, Stuff; live updates on Stuff
“They have speed and they are tall.”
Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda reiterated the scouting report on several occasions on Thursday, as he spoke ahead of his side’s FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal against Sweden.
Two of the most impressive sides in the tournament will meet at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday. Neither has played there so far, but the winner will return next Tuesday for a semifinal against either Spain or the Netherlands, who play in Wellington at lunchtime on Friday.
If it’s Japan, they will have done well to deal with the aerial threat posed by their opponents, especially at corners and free kicks. If it’s Sweden, it might well be because they’ve made the most of that threat.
Sweden had the third-tallest squad out of the 32 that began the World Cup, while Japan had the fifth-shortest. There is a 7cm difference in the average heights of the two squads, with Sweden sitting at 171.6cm and Japan at 164.7cm.
Where it will likely matter most – Sweden’s centre backs Amanda Ilestedt and Magdalena Eriksson coming up against Japan’s centre backs Saki Kumagai, Moeka Minami and Hana Takahashi at set-pieces – there is little difference.
Takahashi at 169cm is the shortest, with Eriksson and Minami both 172cm and Kumagai – the only player left in the World Cup who knows what it’s like to win one, as she did with Japan in 2011 – standing at 173cm.
Ilestedt, at 178cm, does tower over all of them, and made the most of her height in scoring three goals during the group stage, all of them from corners – a late winner as Sweden beat South Africa 2-1 and a brace as they breezed past Italy 5-0.
There will also be mismatches to be exploited elsewhere, even if the centre-back-on-centre-back action takes centre stage, given Sweden’s overall advantage.
“Of course they are tall, but we are prepared for that,” was Ikeda’s response when asked about the height difference.
“Our players are ready for challenges. We’ve got to be compact in our play, we’re going to do our covering and everything else properly.”
Japan have been flexible so far in the World Cup, attacking sharply on the counter to beat Spain 4-0 in their final group C match, but also showing good ability in possession, with forward Hinata Miyazawa scoring five goals to lead the golden boot race.
“The physical game of the USA is not something we’ll be playing tomorrow,” Swedish coach Peter Gerhardsson said on Thursday, referring to the opponent his team beat on penalties in the round of 16 on Monday.
“We’ll be playing technical, fast players. We need to try to stop their passing game. We’re going to have to be patient. We’re not going to gain possession in the first, second or third situation – we’re going to have to work harder.”
Japan and Sweden have met three times at World Cups, but not since 2011 in Germany, when Japan won a semifinal 3-1 on their way to beating the United States in a penalty shootout in the decider.
Sweden became the first team to beat the US at a World Cup since then, in the same fashion, in the round of 16 in Melbourne on Sunday, after a goalless draw which extended their streak without conceding at this tournament to 342 minutes.
Japan conceded for the first time all tournament in their round of 16 match – perhaps ominously, from a header, albeit following an open-play cross – but Guro Reiten’s goal for Norway was the only one they have conceded in 360 minutes of play in New Zealand and they ultimately cruised to a 3-1 win in Wellington.
Sweden won the first two World Cup meetings between the two nations, 8-0 in the group stage in China in 1991 and 2-0 at the same stage on home soil in 1995, while they also won the last competitive match between them, getting up 3-1 in a quarterfinal at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
Japan v Sweden – results so far
Japan: 3-1 win v Norway, 4-0 win v Spain, 2-0 win v Costa Rica, 5-0 win v Zambia
Sweden: 0-0 draw v United States (won 5-4 on penalties), 2-0 win v Argentina, 5-0 win v Italy, 2-1 win v South Africa
https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/fifa-womens-world-cup-2023/132689029/fifa-womens-world-cup-japan-ready-to-deal-with-tall-order-of-facing-sweden-in-quarterfinal.html FIFA Women’s World Cup: Japan ready to deal with tall order of facing Sweden in quarterfinal