The Westfield Matildas’ World Cup dream is over after an 87th-minute goal handed Japan a 1-0 win in Edmonton on Sunday (AEST).
In a gripping match played in stifling conditions, the Matildas battled hard and showed enormous character only to be undone just before full-time.
A frantic goal-mouth scramble was turned home by substitute Mana Iwabuchi to clinch a hard-fought contest and send the defending champions through to the semis.
There were tears of sadness at full-time from the Matildas but they should be proud of their efforts in a history-making World Cup for Alen Stajcic’s side.
The Matildas were forced to dig in early on as Japan’s high pressure pressing game had them on the back foot.
An incisive pass through the heart of Australia’s defence almost led to a goal for Shinobu Ohno but her attempted lob sailed just over the crossbar.
Round of 16 hero Kyah Simon had the Matildas best early chance as she was put through by Emily van Egmond only for Azusa Iwashimizu to get a lunging block in just as she was about to shoot.
It was the brightest mark of a difficult first 30 minutes for the Matildas as Japan took control of the contest.
Ohno went close again as she almost turned home Nahomi Kawasumi’s cross while Lydia Williams stayed strong to parry over Aya Miyami’s long-range effort.
It was an opening half built on pure grit, concentration and absorbing pressure for the Matildas.
And they did the job well enough to get to the break on level terms, the first time this tournament Japan hasn’t led at half-time.
Whatever Alen Stajcic said at the break had some impact as the Matildas had two great chances in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
First van Egmond capitalised on a sloppy turnover to release Sam Kerr on the left but her curling shot for the far corner didn’t have enough power to beat ‘keeper Ayumi Kaihori.
Then just a couple of minutes later it was van Egmond having a go, hitting a rasping drive from 25 metres out which was just a touch too high.
The match began to open up as fatigue set in and Japan responded at the other end as Kawasumi found Miyama at the near post but her audacious side-heel flick towards goal went inches wide of the post.
As the half wore on it became increasingly evident one goal was likely to decide the outcome and Stajcic brought on both Larissa Crummer and Michelle Heyman to boost the Matildas’ attacking options.
But it was the Matildas defence which was proving the difference, constantly getting crucial tackles in and putting their body on the line.
Just when extra-time looked likely, Iwabuchi would have the final say.
The Matildas failed to clear a corner and after a frantic goal-mouth scramble the ball fell to the substitute who smashed it home from close range.
It was a heart-breaking end for the Matildas but won’t take away from a history-making tournament for this young and emerging side.
Japan 1 (Iwabuchi 87’)