Amanda Ilestedt scored her fourth goal of the tournament and Filippa Angeldal scored a penalty as Sweden hung on to beat Japan 2-1 on Friday and set up a Women’s World Cup semi-final with Spain.
Centre-back Ilestedt headed in just after the half-hour mark at Auckland’s Eden Park to give Sweden a deserved lead and leave Japan trailing for the first time at the World Cup.
Angeldal made it 2-0 from a penalty seven minutes into the second half before Japan hit back, with Riko Ueki missing a spot-kick and Honoka Hayashi pulling one back with three left. minutes to normal time.
Sweden then survived a late storm to advance to the semi-finals for the third time in four World Cups.
The exit of 2011 champions Japan, who followed the United States, Germany and Norway, means there are no previous winners left and a new name will appear on the trophy after next week’s final in Sydney.
If Sweden, runners-up in 2003, are to get there they must win a semi-final in Auckland next Tuesday against Spain, who beat the Netherlands 2-1 earlier Friday in Wellington.
It was billed as the ultimate clash of footballing styles, between a slick and clinical Japan and a tougher and more aggressive Sweden.
Peter Gerhardsson’s Swedish team took the game to their opponents, who sat back in a 5-4-1 without possession but were rarely given the space to break forward on the counterattack as they did in that devastating effect of previous phases.
Japan began to dream of a run to match their remarkable victory in 2011 but instead they lost at the hands of the same team that defeated them in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
The opener came in the 32nd minute after a set-piece, exactly the scenario in which the Japanese were expected to struggle against their much stronger opponents.
Nadeshiko failed to clear their lines due to a free-kick falling into their box, and the ball eventually fell to Ilestedt to stab into the roof of the net after his centre-back partner Magdalena Eriksson has an effort blocked.
Ilestedt, who recently signed for Arsenal, netted three times in the group stage and, remarkably, is a contender to win the golden boot alongside current top scorer Hinata Miyazawa, in five goals, now gone.
Miyazawa had little influence in this game and Sweden could have scored again before half-time, with captain Kosovare Asllani having a shot hit the post through the outstretched fingers of Ayaka Yamashita.
The Japan goalkeeper made another fine save two minutes after the start to push a Johanna Kaneryd shot behind for a corner.
However it was the corner that led to the second goal. The delivery from the right hit Fuka Nagano’s fist in his own box, and the Liverpool player’s offense was found by the referee after a review.
Manchester City midfielder Angeldal stepped up to convert the spot-kick, sending Yamashita the wrong way.
Japan did not give up and won a penalty in the 76th minute when substitute Ueki went down under Madelen Janogy’s slight contact.
It was a soft award, but Ueki couldn’t convert, his kick hitting the underside of the bar and wide.
The woodwork saved Sweden again in the 87th minute when Aoba Fujino’s free-kick brilliantly hit the bar, bounced off the back of goalkeeper Zecira Musovic and hit the post.
But seconds later Japan got a goal back as Eriksson failed to deal with Kiko Seike’s cross and Hayashi pounced to score, setting up a terrific finish.