Sawa hat-trick fires Japan into World Cup quarters

Leverjusen (Germany): A hat-trick from skipper Homare Sawa and a first half Shinobu Ohno goal booked Japan a quarterfinal berth at the women`s World Cup with a 4-0 win over Mexico on Friday.

But it was a magnificent individual performance from Sawa, competing in her fifth World Cup, which stole the show as she lifted the Japanese to just their second quarter-finals after 1995.

The Japanese demolished the young Mexican side to achieve their second win in as many games after their 2-1 opening success against New Zealand.

With a maximum six points they are assured of one of the two group qualifying spots to advance to the final eight.

Nicknamed `the Nadeshiko` - a pink flower symbolising grace and beauty - the Japanese showed their mettle as they overwhelmed the Central Americans from the outset.

Sawa, the country`s record 168-capped player, headed in after 13 minutes from a free kick and two minutes later her INAC Leonessa teammate Ohno doubled their account slamming home a Yuki Nagasto cross.

The Mexicans could find no answer to the attacking Japanese as 32-year-old Sawa continued the rout six minutes before the break when she rose above the melee in front of goal to head in an Aya Miyama corner.

The Japanese thought they had a fourth just before the break but Nagasto`s effort was ruled offside.

Back after the break the Japanese showed no let-up leaving the Mexicans with little space although Stephany Mayor had a shot at goal on 76 minutes but it was held by goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.

But Sawa slammed home their superiority with her third when she fired in past diving keeper Cecilia Santiago following a Yukari Kinga cross on 80 minutes.

Three minutes later Norio Sasaki substituted the midfielder for Rumi Utsugi and a celebrating Sawa ran off the pitch to an ovation from the crowd.

The Japanese missed two last gasp efforts from Nagasto and Miyama.

It was a triumphant start to the tournament for Sasaki`s fourth-ranked Japanese who did now even know if they could compete in Germany after the earthquake and tsumani that devastated Japan in March.

After drawing their opening game against England 1-1, Mexico`s fate depends in part on the result of the second group game between England and New Zealand in Dresden later Friday.

In was the sixth victory for the Japanese in eight meetings with the Mexicans who fare badly against the Asians in the world tournament having lost the play-offs for the World Cup in 2003 and 2007 to Japan.

Japan`s final game will be against England in Augsburg on Tuesday, with Mexico playing New Zealand in Sinsheim.

Bureau Report

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