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Japan stuns defending champs as France tops England in shootout

Photo by Martin Meissner

Photo by Martin Meissner

WOLFSBURG, Germany -- However shocking the elimination of two-time defending champion Germany, the Women's World Cup took heart that the two most creative teams of Saturday's quarterfinals advanced.

Japan absorbed relentless but dull German pressure for 108 minutes before hitting back with an exquisite counter to stun a host nation fully expecting a hat trick of titles. The 1-0 victory gave Japan its first ever World Cup semifinal spot.

France also had all the moves against England yet needed an 88th minute equalizer for 1-1 and then saw England crumble under pressure when its last two players failed to hit the target to give the penalty shootout away 4-3.

Hulking over their Japanese opponents, Germany was supposed to send the ball high and hope to continue its display of fine heading at the World Cup. And even if the ball sometimes fell kindly to Japan even German coach Silvia Neid had to admit the opponent had skills they didn't.

In midfield, Japan had Homare Sawa who combines leadership with vision, speed and endurance and the hosts could only watch in awe.

"I take my hat off to her," said Neid. "It is her fifth World Cup and she still plays so well."

Sawa set up substitute Karina Maruyama with a deep pass in extra time and the substitute outran the German defense and put Japan through with a drive from a tight angle to make the difference.

In Germany's first loss in the tournament in a dozen years, Japan absorbed relentless pressure during regulation time and hit back when it counted.

It set Japan up for a semifinal Wednesday in Frankfurt against the winner of the clash between Sweden and Australia on Sunday.

Almost a tradition now, the Japanese players united behind a Japanese banner saying, "To our friends around the world -- Thank you for your support," recognizing the global aid in the wake of the deadly Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March.

"In times of distress we think of the problems in the disaster regions and the images of these people gave us strength," said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.

Like Japan, France advanced to the semifinals for the first time.

The French also left it late, Elise Bussaglia scoring with two minutes remaining to pull level at 1-1 after Jill Scott had put England ahead in the 59th minute.

"I thought I was at the wrong movie, to have a match with so many chances but we couldn't score," said France coach Bruno Bini. "It could have been 3-0. We didn't get our reward until the very end."

With neither side able to score in extra-time, England captain Faye White missed the decisive penalty kick to leave her side with that familiar feeling.

"England get knocked out on penalties. How boring is that?" asked England coach Hope Powell.

France will play the winner of Sunday's clash between the United States or Brazil in Moenchengladbach on Wednesday.