EDMONTON, Canada - Nadeshiko got a fortunate break Wednesday when England's literally last-minute own goal gave the defending champions a 2-1 win in the semifinals of the Women's World Cup.
Advancing into its second successive World Cup final, the Japan squad will try for back-to-back titles against a familiar foe, the United States, in the final on Sunday.
Fourth-ranked Japan scored in the 33rd minute from midfielder and captain Aya Miyama's penalty kick, only to be leveled by sixth-ranked England seven minutes later, also from a penalty spot. They were tied all the way until the end of the second half, when England, retreating on defence, netted an own goal in the final minute of stoppage time.
Japan's rivalry with the United States - runners-up in the 2011 World Cup in Germany and ranked second - continues as they face each other in a final for a third time. Their previous meetings were at the last World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics.
Another shot at title
Nadeshiko suffered immensely to reach this point, but once again they prevailed. Advancing to the final and gaining a shot at back-to-back titles, the Japan team raised their fists up high to celebrate their semifinal victory.
The only loss Nadeshiko suffered in the last World Cup was against England. On Wednesday, the Japan squad couldn't get into its normal rhythm, and only seven minutes after their successful penalty kick in the 33rd minute, they let England tie the match.
It was the first time in the current tourney that Nadeshiko had allowed an opponent to score, or failed to protect its lead in the first half of the game.
In the last minute of the game, just before going into extra time, a cross from midfielder Nahomi Kawasumi dropped right in front of the goal. England rushed to clear, but accidentally put the ball in its own net.
Miyama summed up Nadeshiko's win by saying: "We're all together pulling in the same direction and striving every day. We believe we can win, and we believe in each other. That's our strength."
They will face their archrival in the final match, with the United States having last defeated them at the London Olympics. "We won't just hand them the World Cup trophy," Miyama said.
Coach Norio Sasaki said: "The players seemed more tired than I had expected, and the quality of their play was a bit of a problem. However, their desire to win overcame all of that and gave them the winning goal. Regardless of how we do in the final match, I want the players to enjoy the game and demonstrate our tenacity to Japan."