Nadeshiko Japan's medal hopes suffer blow in loss to Britain

Great Britain's Ellen White (R) reacts after scoring in the second half of a Tokyo Olympic women's football Group E match against Japan on July 24, 2021, at Sapporo Dome in Hokkaido, northern Japan. (Kyodo)

Nadeshiko Japan suffered their first defeat of the Tokyo Olympic women’s soccer tournament Saturday night, a 1-0 pool match loss to Great Britain, putting their quarterfinal qualification hopes in jeopardy.

Played in cavernous Sapporo Dome, the Group E match was won by a 75th-minute goal from the head of English forward Ellen White, an effort that rewarded the European team’s second-half dominance.

After drawing their first match against Canada, the loss leaves Asako Takakura’s Japan team languishing third in their group with one point. They need a win against Chile in their final game to have any hope of advancing and may still miss out if the other match’s result does not go their way.

“We were playing focused, but it was one play that did us in,” Takakura said. “It went according to their game plan. There were points where we were able to attack in the way we wanted, so we’ll take that as a positive going into the next game.”

Great Britain remain unbeaten and atop the group with six points. Canada are second with four points after beating Chile 2-1 earlier in the day.

The two top-ranked teams from each group progress to the quarterfinals and will be joined by the two best third-ranked squads.

Japan barely threatened the British goal over the 90 minutes in the capital of Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

The home team’s only shot on goal came in the first half and was of the long-range variety. Honoka Hayashi hit the ball from approximately 30 meters out but directly at British goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck who handled with ease.

Great Britain started the second half the much more threatening team, dominating possession and territory and gradually taking control. Rather than counterpunching, the Japanese players went into their shells, the British press leading to long aerial passes that were easily snuffed out by the physical Brits.

The pressure finally cracked the Japan defense open when White got her head to a slightly mishit Lucy Bronze cross that fell at the edge of the six-yard box.

The Manchester City player was faster to the ball than Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita and looped her header into an unattended goal.

British substitute Caroline Weir almost doubled the lead at the 90-minute mark but her sweetly hit free kick flew just over Yamashita’s crossbar.