FARO, Portugal--Midfielder Megumi Takase headed home a corner kick late in the second half as Japan's women's national team defeated world No. 1 Team USA 1-0 in a Group B match at the Algarve Cup on March 5 to advance to the final against Germany.
Although Japan defeated the United States in a penalty shootout last year to capture its first World Cup crown, a victory or loss after a penalty shootout is officially recorded as a draw. That means Nadeshiko Japan's 1-0 triumph on March 5 was its first win over the powerhouse U.S. team in 26 matches.
No. 3 ranked Japan will next face Group A winner and world No. 2 Germany, which routed Sweden 4-0 on the same day, in the final on March 7.
"The players had their heads in the game until the last seconds," head coach Norio Sasaki said. "The match progressed as we planned--being patient in the first half and putting in fresh players in the second half to decide the game."
In the 84th minute, Takase, who took the pitch in the 65th minute, headed home a corner kick from midfielder Aya Miyama into the right corner of the goalmouth. It was her fifth goal for the national side and her first since May 2010.
"I had a feeling the ball was coming back to me," the 21-year-old INAC Kobe Leonessa player said. "I could head it freely when I was unmarked after I stepped backward."
Homare Sawa, the 2011 Women's Player of the Year, was not 100 percent and missed the match due to poor conditioning.
Midfielder Asuna Tanaka, however, admirably filled Sawa's void, although Tanaka does not play as aggressively as Sawa.
"I thought I could contribute to the team with my own playing style," Tanaka said.
"I don't want Sawa to think we were not able to fight without her," said Miyama, who took over the captaincy from Sawa before the Algarve Cup. "We were quite reliable."
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