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Japan devastated as late handball gifts Holland penalty to secure World Cup quarter-final place. Lieke Martens’s second goal enabled Holland to sneak a last-minute winner and progress to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time as a harsh penalty decision knocked out Japan. In a thrilling tie, Holland went ahead in the 17th minute before Yui Hasegawa evened things up just before the interval. The second half was Japanese passing artistry at its best but a controversial handball call ended their hopes, Martens converting a penalty in the dying minutes. The new handball law led to referee Melissa Borjas awarding the penalty because Saki Kumagai’s hand blocked Vivianne Miedema’s shot, even though there was no clear intention. Martens scored from the spot to set up a meeting with Italy on Saturday.
As befitting a meeting of the Asian and European champions, the game produced some of the slickest action of the World Cup. An audacious backheel flick set up Martens to send the Dutch in front in the 17th minute and Yui Hasegawa equalized in the 43rd to complete a slick passing move.
With the last Asian team eliminated, the Women’s World Cup will have a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals. Norway and England meet in Le Havre on Thursday and France takes on the United States the following night. After the Netherlands plays Italy on Saturday, Germany and Sweden will meet.
Asako Takakura, the Japan head coach, was already looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics in her post-match interviews and made no hard-luck story out of the losing circumstances. “We created many chances but we just couldn’t capitalise on them and towards the end we created the crisis ourselves,” she said.
“Now we have VAR, sometimes cruel decisions have been made watching other matches. It happened to us and I’m sorry for that but we have to look forward and accept the decision.” Japan first fell behind when a Sherida Spitse corner found Martens unmarked at the near post. She back-heeled it goalwards, nutmegging Yuika Sugasawa in a slight deflection.
Thereafter the momentum was with Holland, using their physical advantage well in midfield to stifle their opponents. So when Japan equalised with a sublime team goal in the 43rd minute, it came from nowhere. After a sequence of passes, Mana Iwabuchi tricked her defender before tapping through to Hasagawa in the area. A casual dink over keeper Sari van Veenendaal and the former champions were level.
That goal changed the dynamic, Japan passing Holland to death in the second half. They could have found a winner a handful of times, Iwabuchi creating most of them.
Hina Sugita’s curling shot came off the bar but Japan’s artistry was not enough and, in a complete twist, captain Saki Kumagai was penalised for handball in the area, her arm barely lifted. The video assistant referee confirmed the decision and Martens scored from the spot.
Holland next play Italy on Saturday and Martens admitted: “Sometimes you need a little bit of luck.”
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