World champs Japan edge Canada in opener

Reigning world champions Japan began their quest for Olympic gold with a 2-1 win over Canada in Coventry on Wednesday afternoon. The Group F opener was an intriguing clash between the nous and creativity of the Japanese and the enthusiasm and never-say-die spirit of the Canucks.

Japan started the game with no less than nine starters from the side that beat USA in Germany last year to raise the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Trophy. Canada played to their strengths in the opening exchanges, trying to keep the Japanese from settling into their free-flowing passing game by pressuring the ball at every opportunity.

The North Americans did everything they could to get the ball up the field to their all-time top scorer and all-around attacking threat Christine Sinclair, but Japan’s defence held firm and cut out the early supply lines.

After just five minutes, Japan’s short passing, possession game began to hold sway. FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, Homare Sawa, slammed the first chance of the game over the bar when well placed to score. The Japanese, however, didn’t have to wait long for their goal to come. Sawa collected the ball on the left and chipped a cross into the penalty area, where Shinobu Ohno heel-flicked it into the path of Nahomi Kawasumi, who hammered home from close range.

Japan, buoyed by their opening strike, began to turn on the style, taking total control of the game. Canada, for their part, began to look tired, perhaps spent from over-exerting themselves early in the half. The Asians took full advantage with a minute left in the opening period, Aya Miyama heading home a cross form Aya Sameshima that was misjudged by goalkeeper Erin McLeod.

The Canadians pulled a goal back ten minutes into the second half, with Rhian Wilkinson’s service from the flank hammered home by Melissa Tancredi. It was all they could muster, though, as Japan had three more chances to score in what turned out to be a one-sided contest. Yuki Ogimi, Nahomi Kawasumi and substitute Kozue Ando all had decent chances, but were denied by McLeod.

Japan will meet Sweden in their second game on 28 July, the same day that Canada aim to secure their first points of London 2012 against South Africa.