Japan celebrates after scoring its final goal in a 3-1 victory over Sweden… (Christof Koepsel / Getty…)
Europe's interest in the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany ran into a brick wall Wednesday night. For the Europeans, it's all over.
First, the U.S. knocked out France, 3-1, in one semifinal in Moenchengladbach. Next, Japan did the same thing by the same score to previously unbeaten and untied Sweden in Frankfurt.
So it will be the U.S. versus Japan in Sunday's final — a two-time champion against a first-time finalist.
But this appears to be nothing like the Japanese team that the U.S. defeated twice, each time by a 2-0 margin, in friendly matches in Columbus, Ohio, and Cary, N.C., in May.
For one thing, Japan Coach Nori Sasaki seems to have stumbled onto a trove of winning tactics.
Before the quarterfinal against Germany, he showed his players images of the March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan and almost caused the Japanese team to miss the World Cup.
It worked and Germany was beaten.
On Wednesday, Sasaki juggled his starting lineup, inserting Nahomi Kawasumi into the attack.
That worked out pretty well too. After the Swedes had taken the lead on a Josefina Oqvist goal 10 minutes into the match, Kawasumi tied it up just nine minutes later with the first of her two goals.
It came when she got a touch to an Aya Miyama cross, the contact being enough to redirect the ball past Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
Homare Sawa gave Japan the lead at the hour mark and, four minutes later, Kawasumi got her second goal, this time on a speculative shot from 30-plus yards that soared over Lindahl and into the net.
A Japanese victory was now in store, much to the surprise of the 45,434 on hand and much to Sawa's relief.
Sweden's early goal had resulted from a rare bad pass by Sawa that was intercepted by Oqvist, who took full advantage. That was to be the lone highlight for the Swedes, however.
Japan dominated the game, retaining possessions, moving the ball around and completely outplaying their opponent.
"Everyone could see that Japan was the better side," Sweden Coach Thomas Dennerby said. "They put in an outstanding tactical display and I think they pose a real threat to the USA."
Midfielder Miyama said a repeat performance would be necessary.
"Ahead of the match, we sat down together as a team and promised to give our all and play our own game," she told FIFA.com. "Now we need to do that in the final."
Jones reported from Ross-on-Wye, England