The United States beat Japan 4-0 to earn a semi-final place at the IIHF Women's World Championships in Espoo, Finland ©IIHF

The United States tonight glided closer to a fifth consecutive gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Women’s World Championships as they beat Japan 4-0 in the opening quarter-final at Espoo Metro Areena in Finland.

The Olympic champions’ opponents in their semi-final on Saturday will be Russia, who defeated Switzerland 3-0 in their quarter-final.

Canada, who lost the Pyeongchang 2018 final to the United States on a shootout, hammered Germany – one of three teams that had advanced from Group B – 5-0 in their quarter-final.

The Canadians will now meet hosts Finland, who defeated the Czech Republic 3-1 in the final match of the night in front of 3,290 raucous spectators.

The Finns fell behind to a goal at the start of the second period from Natalie Mlynkova, but they drew level in the 28th minute through Michelle Karvinen before Susanna Tapani gave them the lead four minutes from the end of the second period.

The result was reinforced by a 51st-minute goal from Jenni Hiirikoski.

The United States, who have won seven of the past eight world titles, had to work harder than expected for their fifth consecutive victory in this year’s Championship.

A crowd of 2,483 saw Hilary Knight put the holders ahead, with Dani Cameranesi, Cayla Barnes and Coyne Schofield supplying the other goals.

This was the first time the American women had played in a World Championship quarter-final, as they had received semi-final byes on all previous occasions prior to the new 10-team format.

It was also an historic first for Japan.

"It was such a tough game but a good challenge for us," said Japanese captain Chiho Osawa.

"It was a very good experience for us, because we haven't played against the USA for 10 years."

Canada, desperate to avenge their Pyeongchang defeat, after which at least one of their players refused to wear their silver medal, took another step towards winning what would be their first world title since 2012 with an overwhelming victory against Germany.

Blayre Turnbull scored twice, the other goals coming from Brianne Jenner,  Laura Stacey and Natalie Spooner.

Russia’s goals in their well-earned win over Switzerland came from Anna Shokhina in the second period, and, in the final period, Yelena Dergachyova  and Alevtina Shtaryova.