- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 24, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Japan coach Norio Sasaki apologized for the stressful, flurry of a finish.

The defending Women’s World Cup champions are on to the quarterfinal following a nail-biter at the end against tournament first-timer the Netherlands after controlling most of the match.

Mizuho Sakaguchi scored what turned out to be the deciding goal in the 78th minute on a pretty left-footed shot from the top of the 18-yard box, and Japan held off a late attack and a close call in the waning moments to defeat the Dutch 2-1 on Tuesday night in the knockout stage.

“I’m sorry we kept you in suspense until the very end,” Sasaki said with a smile. “I tried to have a one-sided, stable game but we always have these tense moments.”

Kirsten van de Ven scored for the Dutch in stoppage time when the ball went off goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori’s right arm. Three additional minutes had been added to the clock. The goalie put her gloves to her face in disbelief and said something to herself, then had to stay alert as the Dutch threatened once more before the final whistle.

Sakaguchi scored shortly after Japan nearly had an own goal. Sherida Spitse took a corner in the 76th and the ball deflected off Aya Sameshima toward her own net when Kaihori punched it away with her right fist.

“We are in the knockout stage so if we lost there would be nothing left, so I’m happy that we won,” Sakaguchi said. “I went for a strike and I thought it was a long shot (in distance) and that’s not my strength, but I thought I should try it.”

Saori Ariyoshi found herself in perfect position when the Netherlands flubbed a clear and scored from the top of the box in the 10th minute for Japan’s initial goal.

Japan overpowered the young Dutch squad for much of the evening at BC Place by controlling possession in the midfield to create chances, and the defense pushed far up the field. The Nadeshiko, who along with Brazil were the only teams to win all three group-stage games, advance to the quarterfinal against Australia on Saturday at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

They stuck with their familiar World Cup trend, too. Five of Japan’s six goals have come in the 29th minute or earlier, and all six have been scored by a different player.

Japan, with its hustle and fancy footwork on display for a crowd of 28,717, ran its game plan with precision to control all of the field against an overmatched Netherlands team making its World Cup debut.

On the early scoring play, Aya Miyama dribbled down the left sideline and crossed to Yuki Ogimi, whose header hit the crossbar and Dutch defender Merel van Dongen couldn’t clear the rebound. Ariyoshi then connected from about 15 yards out and put the ball in the lower corner past diving goalkeeper Loes Geurts.

Japan had another solid chance in the 22nd minute on a pretty give-and-go from Sameshima to Shinobu Ohno that Sameshima struck over the bar. Ohno also missed an open header moments before the first-half whistle.

Even when the Netherlands threatened early, it seemed a step slow.

Dutch coach Roger Reijners said his team was sloppy with its passing.

“Our team did all we could to get something going and not leave with nothing at all. After 2-0 we were a little lucky and managed to make it 2-1,” he said.

Manon Melis took a great ball in the seventh minute but couldn’t get a foot on it, whiffing as she knocked it out of bounds. In the 48th, 18-year-old forward Vivianne Miedema got the ball near the top left corner of the box and opted to dribble into traffic rather than take a quick shot. The Dutch missed making contact on two headers from the same ball high in the box in the 73rd minute.

Japan started three different goalkeepers in the group stage as part of Sasaki’s liberal substitution plan to use his entire roster and have every player ready to contribute.

After Erina Yamane injured her shoulder, Sasaki went with Kaihori - the only one to give up a goal in the group stage in a late score by Cameroon. Kaihori made another save in the 86th minute Tuesday.

Japan’s Homare Sawa, playing her sixth and final World Cup, entered in the 80th minute after starting two of the team’s three matches in the group stage.

The Netherlands missed a chance to qualify for next summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics as one of Europe’s top three teams, but could still earn a berth into the 12-team Olympic field through a European playoff.

The white teddy bear wearing an oversized No. 7 jersey that Japan keeps close to honor injured teammate Kozue Ando held its spot on the bench. Ando broke her left ankle in the World Cup opener against Switzerland.

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