Hinata Miyazawa scored her fifth goal of the Women’s World Cup on Saturday to seal a 3-1 win over Norway and put Japan into the quarter-finals against Sweden or holders the United States.
In a last-16 clash in Wellington between two former champions, an Ingrid Syrstad Engen own goal gave Japan an early lead in front of 33,000.
Norway hit back with a brilliant Guro Reiten header to make it 1-1 at half-time.
But after the break the Norwegian defence buckled under pressure when defender Risa Shimizu put Japan back into the lead before Miyazawa struck.
Norway threw everything at Japan late on but goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita stood firm and in injury time pulled off a breathtaking save from a close-range header, somehow clawing the ball back off the line.
Japan look ominous and in the 23-year-old Miyazawa they have the tournament’s top scorer.
“I am really happy to have scored the goal but it is because all of the team worked for that,” she said. “I want to score more.”
Japan had breezed into the last 16 with an immaculate three wins, chalking up 11 goals without reply in the group stages.
That included a statement 4-0 thumping of Spain.
Head coach Futoshi Ikeda said the 2011 champions are becoming harder to beat as the tournament progresses.
“The team is very positive, kept up the pace and I think we have become tougher than before,” he added.
Norway recovered from a shock defeat to co-hosts New Zealand on the opening day to draw with Switzerland before routing the Philippines 6-0 to advance.
But with their 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg only fit enough to come off the bench towards the end, they never looked like repeating their title success from 1995.
“Credit to Japan for how they played and how they broke us down,” said coach Hege Riise.
“We were solid in defence at times, but not quite good enough.”
Miyazawa came within a whisker of grabbing the opener inside just 60 seconds, but failed to connect with a short cross from close range.
Japan’s early pressure told when Engen watched in horror after stabbing Miyazawa’s cross into her own net on 15 minutes.
The lead lasted just five minutes due to some Norwegian brilliance on their first meaningful attack.
Barcelona playmaker Caroline Graham Hansen beat two defenders, played the ball wide to Vilde Boe Risa, whose pin-point cross was headed home by Reiten.
It was the first goal they have conceded at this tournament, but there was no let-up from Japan.
They stifled Norway’s attack by holding possession higher up the field, leaving Norway’s playmaker Graham Hansen tied up defending.
Japan should have scored their second just before half-time when Yui Hasegawa’s pass beat the defence but evaded Jun Endo’s run.
Japan ramped up the pressure in the second period and West Ham’s Shimizu punished a loose Norway pass by firing her side back into the lead.
With time running out, Norway threatened to fight their way back into the game and replacement forward Karina Saevik fired wide of the far post.
Arsenal midfielder Frida Maanum then shot straight at Yamashita.
Miyazawa sealed Japan’s victory with nine minutes left.
She perfectly timed her run, then tucked Aoba Fujino’s through ball past Norway goalkeeper Aurora Mikalsen to fire Japan into the last eight.