Japan drop huge shock to beat co-hosts Denmark

07 Dec. 2023

Japan drop huge shock to beat co-hosts Denmark

Japan produced the biggest shock of this edition of the IHF Women's World Championship, taking a 27:26 win against co-hosts Denmark, creating even more drama in Group III of the main round at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023.

Denmark vs Japan 26:27 (12:12)

Already warned by Japan’s nail-biting losses against Germany (30:31) and Poland (30:32), Denmark knew that they were expecting a tough match against the plucky Asian side, whose style is hardly suiting European sides.

Nevertheless, Jesper Jensen’s side, backed by over 8,000 fans in the Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning, found themselves in a tough spot, after Japan took a 12:10 lead after 27 minutes, with both an excellent attacking display and a hard defence, which clearly hampered Denmark’s chances.

Starting from the bench, Kristina Jorgensen was brought up late in the match, especially as Denmark looked to have no issues to start the match, jumping to an early 5:2 lead. Japan did not panic, with their coach urging for more calm and it proved to be the right play, as the Asian side eased back into the match.

First, they used a 3:0 unanswered run, spurred by centre back Natsuki Aizawa to tie the score, 6:6. Then, a stint of eight minutes and 39 seconds without a Denmark goal, which eventually prompted a team time-out for Jensen, saw Japan create their first two-goal lead, 10:8, applying even more pressure on the co-hosts.

Denmark were there in the first match against Serbia, but the pressure was again mounting, despite some free-flowing attacking phases, which clearly went in the European side’s way, as the two teams entered the break in a deadlock, 12:12, after line player Sarah Iversen scored a last-gasp goal with one second to go, after an astute pass from Jorgensen.

But Japan taking the lead multiple times in the first half was not a one-time thing, rather than a symptom of Denmark’s woes, as the co-hosts had no speed, no impetus and no efficiency in attack. In fact, in the first 15 minutes of the second half, Jesper Jensen’s side scored only five times, giving Japan a helping hand to build a strong lead.

By the time Jesper Jensen called a team time-out, with 14 minutes left, Japan were four goals up, 22:18, riding a superb match from goalkeeper Sakura Kametani, who had nine saves, while four players had at least four goals scored until that moment.

While Denmark might have had the advantage of their experience and depth, the pressure was resting solely on their shoulders, as Japan had nothing to lose in this match, having already been on zero points at the start of the main round. But the Asian side displayed grit and calm, proving they are a worthy opponent against any side in the world right now.

Three times Denmark came within two goals, but each time Japan navigated the game well and bounced back, adding even more pressure on the co-hosts. Eventually, something had to give and it was Denmark’s winning streak, as Japan won the match via an in-flight goal from Hikaru Matsumoto, who scored with three seconds left to bring the Asian side their biggest-ever win at the IHF Women’s World Championship, 27:26.

Denmark are now on four points in the group, while Japan took only their second win in this edition and are on two points, an incredible achievement for the Asian side, which had previously lost by low margins against European sides.

hummel Player of the Match: Sakura Kametani (Japan)