Japan's star player Aya Miyama curled home a perfect free kick in the 68th minute to give her side a 2-1 victory over New Zealand at the Women's World Cup on Monday in Bochum, Germany.
England was due to play Mexico in Wolfsburg in the late Group B game. The result left the world's fourth-ranked team in command in the standings even though the quality of Japan's football looked suspect for long periods.
Japan took the lead in the sixth minute through forward Yuki Nagasato and six minutes later Amber Hearn equalized with a header.
Watched by about 15,000 fans, both teams struggled under a steely blue sky and temperatures approaching 30C.
Japan broke the deadlock when Shinobu Ohno intercepted the ball in midfield and immediately delivered a perfect probing pass to Nagasato. New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon, who looked insecure through most of the match, stormed off her line only to see the ball being lobbed over her head.
It looked like the start of a rout, only for a goalkeeping blunder by Ayumi Kaihori six minutes later to allow the New Zealanders back in the game. Kaihori totally misjudged a high cross and the unmarked Hearn only had to head into an empty net.
It remained a tight game until Miyama curled a 17-meter free kick over the wall and past Bindon.
Ranked an all-time high of fourth, Japan was forced to look for victory and enjoyed plenty of possession. Too often though, the final ball went astray or the finishing was not up to scratch.
New Zealand kept the challenge going with plenty of power and high balls and had Japan in trouble until well into the second half. But wilting under the heat, its players failed to create clear-cut chances for another equalizer.