The opening fixture of the inaugural Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup pitted The Nadeshiko against the United States. The match at the Yurtec Stadium, Sendai, which followed consecutive victories for Japan in both a dramatic 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup final penalty shoot-out and a 1-0 Algarve Cup success earlier this year, was evenly contested and ended 1-1. The Nadeshiko were missing Homare Sawa, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, who is sitting out the tournament in her ongoing struggle to recover from vertigo.
The US started the match strongly, and could have taken the lead when Rachel Buehler could only find the hands of Ayumi Kaihori with a close range header inside the first 15 minutes. Heather O’Reilly was a constant threat on the right wing for the visitors, but it would be the home side who drew first blood. Yukari Kinga opened the scoring for Japan on 32 minutes, the right-back collecting a pass on the touchline midway inside the opposition half, and delivering a pass inside to attacking midfielder Nahomi Kawasumi lurking five yards from the penalty area. Kinga continued her run into the 18-yard box and Kawasumi’s delightful lobbed pass floated into her path. An attempted squared pass from the edge of the six-yard box to Yuki Nagasato was cut out by a desperate lunge from defender Rachel Buehler, but Buehler merely succeeded in forcing goalkeeper Hope Solo into preventing an own goal and Kinga followed up to strike home past Solo’s attempted recovery.
Into the second period, the Nadeshiko had an excellent opportunity to extend their lead on 61 minutes. A fine tackle from Aya Sameshima on halfway allowed her to pass to captain and midfielder Aya Miyama, who split the US defence with a ball to Nahomi Kawasuma. Her low shot from 12 yards beat Solo’s dive but drifted agonisingly wide of the post.
Four minutes later Kawasuma had a further chance to give her side a bigger advantage, excellent work on the right wing from Shinobu Ohno bringing her inside Kelly O’Hara and an excellent pass leaving Buehler flat-footed to give Kawasuma a one-on-one. Hope Solo was off her line smartly, however, and the shot was smothered.
With twenty minutes remaining, excellent defending from Buehler almost certainly prevented a second goal for Japan, rushing to close down a fiercely-struck volley from Mizuo Sakaguchi after US captain Christy Ranpone had failed to fully clear a wicked Aya Miyama cross.
Two minutes later and the US were level, an excellent cross-field ball from Abby Wambach on the right touchline finding Carli Lloyd. A quick one-two between the midfielder and Shannon Box allowed Lloyd to advance to the edge of the area, and although Asuna Tanaka’s sliding challenge was perfectly timed, it deflected into the path of Alex Morgan, who coolly dispatched first-time across Ayumi Kaihori. There was some monentary confusion when the assistant appeared to have disallowed the strike for offside, but she was overruled correctly by referee Li Juan and the goal stood.
One minute remained on the clock when Kawasuma had the Nadeshiko’s final shot of the match, a whipped Miyama corner headed to the edge of the area by Abby Wambach, but although she connected cleanly her half-volley was a foot over the crossbar.
Japan’s closing match versus Brazil is on 5 April at the Home’s Stadium in Kobe, while the US and Brazil face each other on 3 April in Chiba.