Sweden 3-0 Japan: Substitutes unlock second-half to gift hosts the win

Sweden readied themselves for the Olympics with a mixed win over Japan.

Japan continue to grow

Pia Sundhage will be happy that, despite not starting the likes of Emma Berglund, Olivia Schough, Lotta Schelin or Kosovare Asllani, her side looked smart and composed on the ball, forcing Asako Takakura’s new-look Nadeshiko into playing long balls to get behind the defence. However, after ten minutes of Swedish dominance, Japan finally found their footing and began to cause the home side some headaches.

Japan continued to press and, after Stina Blackstenius failed to connect with a teasing whipped ball from Sofia Jakobsson, the visitors saw their best chance flash agonisingly wide. Rika Masuya latched another onto a long ball, managed to evade her marker and with Hedvig Lindahl coming out to deter her, Masuya launched the ball that seemed goal-bound only to see it find the side netting.

Although Sweden were still seeing more of the ball, Japan were looking more likely in front of goal. A Nilla Fisher error gifted possession to Yuki Nagasato, but with the angle tightening the striker could only blaze over before Saki Kumagai chanced her arm from outside the box, an easy enough save for the Chelsea keeper.

As the first-half wore on, Japan started to dictate play, their easy passing game beginning to flow and the home fans did all they could to get behind their fading team. However, the Blue and Yellows still possessed a strong threat coming down the right flank with through the likes of LinköpingsJessica Samuelsson.  

Another chance for the visitors and another shot that skewed just wide of the target, Yu Nakasato was the next player to see her effort slip past the post after a well-worked corner found her in space in the box.

Jakobsson had a golden chance for the hosts to take the lead minutes before the break, weaving through midfield, the attacker scythed her way into the box before being pushed wide by Rumi Utsugi. Utsugi’s last-ditch sliding challenge was enough to put the Montpellier striker off and her resulting shot comfortably beat the crossbar.

All change

With her team looking the weaker of the two and the Olympics looming on the horizon, Sundhage made four half-time substitutions; Schelin, Asllani, Berglund and Magdalena Eriksson all introduced with Blackstenius, Samuelson, Linda Sembrant and Jonna Andersson all going in the other direction.

The changes had an instant impact with Schelin firing just over the upright just seconds after the restart. For the second time in the match the hosts had started the stronger side and their opposition looked uncharacteristically lethargic.  

With Sweden looking more focused in attack and Japan once again having to rely on more hopeful balls than their usual pinpoint passes, Takakura brought Saori Arimachi on for Nagasato.

Unfortunately, the game lacked a cutting edge, neither side at their best or with the kind of impetus expected with a competitive game, and when Jakobsson made way for Schough the game seemed to be winding down into a dour draw with almost half an hour left.

Super subs cut the deadlock

With little of interest happening, the game finally got it's goal fifteen minutes from time, second-half substitutes combining as Asllani and Schough played a nice one-two before the former pinged the ball to Schelin. The FC Rosengård striker, who had appeared to be struggling just minutes earlier, rolled her marker before finishing past Ayaka Yamashita into the bottom corner.

It wasn’t long before Sweden added a second either. With Japan pressing for an equaliser, the former world champions were leaving too much space at the back to be exploited by the hosts. Once again, Manchester City’s Kosovare Asllani was the provider but this time Fridolina Rolfö was the beneficiary. The young Linköping striker, who had been limited to speculative efforts throughout the match, picked up the weighted pass before chasing into the box and striking past Yamashita into the far corner.

With time ticking down into the last knockings of stoppage time, Sweden added insult to injury by once again undoing Japan on the counter. Just like the first two, it was a ball through the centre, this time from Rolfö to find Schough lurking behind a defender. Just like Rolfö before her, Schough took the ball to the left of the goal and with Yamashita advancing, the Eskilstuna United midfielder finished into the far corner.

Finishing lacking

Despite the final scoreline, the game was a close-run affair - the difference was Sweden taking their chances late in the second-half.

Although Japan dictated most of the first-half, they struggled to work Lindahl and saw most efforts unable to beat the woodwork. However, Takakura’s Nadeshiko continue to grow and strengthen, this side far removed from the Norio Sasaki team that suffered humiliation in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final and failed to qualify for Rio 2016.

Sweden still run the risk of having an Olympic tournament that’s similar to how they performed in Canada; underwhelming. Players seemed to drift in and out of the game, either saving their best form for Rio or as a precursor as to what may lie ahead. The second-half substitutes were truly the difference, but given the gruelling Olympic schedule, huge questions of whether the squad will be able to perform consistently still persist.