Japan have guaranteed themselves a medal and a probable meeting with the United States by dispatching France in the women's football semifinals of the 2012 Olympics. But the win wasn't easy, and despite taking a 2-0 lead early in the second half they were forced into some very nervy moments by a spirited France team which, if not for some poor luck and a missed spot kick, could easily be celebrating an impressively comeback win.
The Group F runners up began the game well, pinning their opponents back into their own half before finally making a breakthrough on a set piece in the 32nd minute. That goal took some help from French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, who came out for a hopeful free kick and, rather than punching clear, let the ball bounce off he outstretched hands. It fell kindly for Japan, and a combination of Yuki Ogimi and the France defence scrambled the ball into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Stung by the weak goal, France began playing in earnest, pressing Japan high up the pitch and flinging in crosses which the shorter Japanese defence had trouble with. But the favourites were still dangerous in possession, and provided what looked like the killing blow shortly after half time when Mizuho Sakaguchi placed a wonderful cushioned header over Bouhaddi and into the top corner.
At 2-0 down, France needed the next goal, and they got it after Eugenie le Sommer powered a cutback past the helpless Miho Fukumoto to halve the deficit following an excellent run by Marie-Laure Delie. Japan entered a defensive shell, prepared to hold onto their lead for the final few minutes, but immediately shot themselves in the foot by conceding a penalty, with Sakaguchi barging over le Sommer in the box as the striker ran away from goal.
Referee Quetzalli Alvarado pointed to the spot immediately, and it looked like the comeback was nearly complete, but Elise Bussaglia's penalty flew inches wide of the left-hand post. The score remained 2-1, and although France kept the pressure up they couldn't find a way through Japan, mostly thanks to some fantastic reflex saves from the goalkeeper and some very lucky bounces.
After four minutes of stoppage time, Japan emerged, bloodied and battered but ultimately victorious. They'll contest the winners of Canada and the USA, potentially setting up a rematch of the 2011 Women's World Cup Final, which saw Japan beat the USWNT on penalties.