EDMONTON (Canada) • Japan coach Norio Sasaki admitted that his side struggled to control England before a dramatic own goal sealed a 2-1 win at the Women's World Cup and set up a title rematch with the United States.
England defender Laura Bassett turned the football into her own net deep into injury time to send the heartbroken English home and holders Japan through to their second consecutive final, which will be held in Vancouver on Sunday.
The opening goals came via penalties from Japan captain Aya Miyama (33rd minute) and Fara Williams (40th) as the gritty English matched the reigning champions.
The Japanese were unable to dictate play the way they had in their five previous games, which were also won by one-goal margins.
"We had a tough game. I thought we could play the way we wanted to and we could stick to our plan but they were playing in a very simple manner and they were also powerful," said Sasaki.
"England were more mobile than I was expecting and we struggled to cause them problems. We didn't play as well as I'd hoped but we've qualified, which is the main thing."
The Japan coach saw the own goal more as the result of his own players pressing hard for the winner than just a mistake from the devastated Bassett.
"As for the own goal, I feel sorry for the player but Yuki Ogimi was right behind her, ready to pounce, so I do not think that it would have made a difference either way," explained Sasaki after the semi-final.
"We still created the scoring opportunity ourselves.
"For me, it's more a goal made by Nahomi Kawasumi and Ogimi than an own goal."
Bassett, 31, was in tears and had to be consoled by her team-mates and England coach Mark Sampson as she walked off the field, the Lionesses stunned, shocked and crying at the heartbreaking final turn.
"It was a horrible moment but you just have to look at how the team have supported her to understand that she'll be able to get over it," said Sampson.
"Every single member of our group were devastated when that ball went over the line."
Sampson praised the Japanese players for their effort.
"We saw today why they're world champions, they've got hearts of lions," he said. "They hung in there and huge credit to them for withstanding that England onslaught in the second half.
"Japan have shown their character, their resilience and their determination to defend this title."
Sunday's final will be a third clash for a major title between Japan and the United States.
In the 2011 final in Frankfurt, Japan won on penalties but the Americans took Olympic gold in 2012 by beating Japan in the final.
"In the final against the USA, I think we can go in with a fresh perspective," said Sasaki.
"It's a final and there is nothing beyond that. We must not be afraid to make mistakes. This is what I will tell the players."