Japan on a mission to match 2011 Women’s World Cup triumph
AUCKLAND–As a young teenager, Fuka Nagano was inspired by Japan’s Women’s World Cup triumph in 2011 and the Liverpool midfielder said she and her team mates fully believed that this year’s Nadeshiko will be able to match the feat.
After the early exits of the United States, Germany and Norway, Japan is the last former winner remaining in the tournament going into its quarter-final against Sweden at Eden Park on Friday.
The 2011 triumph captured the hearts of a nation still coming to terms with the tragedy of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people along the northeast coast.
“I was 13 years old or so,” Nagano recalled on Thursday. “Back then, I saw how the Nadeshiko played and that really empowered me, that’s what I remember about it.
“The Nadeshiko won the World Cup and we want to show Japan’s strength again at this tournament. We all believe that we can do it, and I think that’s what has brought us to where we are now.”
In terms of their play at this tournament, Japan could hardly be in a better place.
They romped through the group stage scoring 11 goals and conceding none before sending 1995 champions Norway packing with a dominant 3-1 win in the last 16.
The Swedes will present a similar threat to the Norwegians but coach Futoshi Ikeda said his team would not be intimidated by the physically imposing Scandinavians.
“Of course, they are tall but we are prepared for that,” he said.
“Our players are ready for any challenge. We’re going to be compact at our end and we’re going to mark their players and cover everything else very properly.”
The Nadeshiko have shown remarkable flexibility in the tournament by adjusting their tactics according to the opposition. Ikeda said that would not change on Friday.
“Against Sweden, we need to first figure out where they are putting pressure on us. I think our players will notice that from the beginning,” he said.
“After that, we’re going to decide where our defensive lines and so on should be. But we don’t want to be just about defence. We want to keep compact in midfield and put pressure on them as well.”
Sweden knocked Japan out of their own Olympics two years ago but Ikeda did not think that 3-1 quarter-final loss in Saitama would have much bearing on Friday’s clash, even if his team was feeling similar support from the Japanese people.
“Our team is very different,” he said. “It’s a different challenge. It’s difficult to compare, but the support of the people in Japan watching on TV is something that we can really feel at this World Cup.”