Japan coach Norio Sasaki admitted the champions had not lived up to his expectations in Wednesday's 2-1 win over England, but said they still deserved to be in the Women's World Cup final for the second tournament in a row.
The Nadeshiko were pushed to the brink by an England team that had never been in the semifinals before, but a freak own goal in second-half stoppage time from defender Laura Bassett gave the Japanese victory to set up a rematch of the 2011 final against the United States on Sunday in Vancouver.
"England were more mobile than I was expecting, and we struggled to cause them problems. We didn't play as well as I'd hoped," said Sasaki, whose team had not beaten England in their previous four meetings.
"But when you qualify, it means you've achieved your objective."
Two soft penalties left the teams all square at 1-1 at the break, with both Aya Miyama and Farra Williams converting from the spot for the second time this tournament.
With the prospect of extra time and a penalty shootout looming, Japan launched a counterattack and Nahomi Kawasumi made a surging run down the right wing before sending a ball into the penalty area.
With Yuki Ogimi breathing down her neck, Bassett lunged a foot at the ball to try and clear, but it looped over goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, bouncing off the bottom of the crossbar and over the line.
"As for the own goal, I feel sorry for the player, but Yuki Ogimi was right behind her ready to pounce, so I don't think it would have made a difference either way," said Sasaki.
"We still created the goalscoring opportunity ourselves -- for me, it's more a goal made by Nahomi Kawasumi and Ogimi than an own goal."
Kozue Ando, who broke her leg in winning the penalty that Miyama slotted home in Japan's opening 1-0 win over Switzerland, told the players before the game that she will be coming back for the final to support the team and that, according to Sasaki, fired them up.
"In the dressing room, Ando told the players over the phone that she would be at the final in Vancouver to support them. I think that provided them with the motivation to qualify," said Sasaki.
England coach Mark Sampson was naturally disappointed with the result but rightfully proud of his players, who created a raft of chances in the second half before the cruel twist at the death.
"What a tough one to take. I can't really talk about the match right now, but I can talk about my team, who have sacrificed so much and who have given sweat, blood and tears, while continuing to smile throughout," the Welshman said.
"The players deserve to go back home as heroes. Laura Bassett is devastated after the own goal, but without her we wouldn't have been in this semifinal. It was a horrible moment, but you just have to look at how the team has supported her to understand that she'll be able to get over it."
"This group is so close-knit that the players are now friends for life. Japan are the world champions, and we saw why tonight. Whatever happens, they always manage to find a way of hanging on in a match, and tonight that helped them to reach the final."
"But I've never seen a team put Japan under the kind of pressure that we did. That's almost worth a World Cup victory."