Japan still believe
As the final whistle brought to an end their opening Group D match at Marseille 2008, the Japanese players fell to their knees on the sand of the Stade du Prado. While their loss at the hands of the 2007 finalists was to be expected, Japan were heartbroken at running the Mexicans so close before ultimately slipping to a 4-3 defeat in what was probably the closest match of the tournament to date.
"We're disappointed in terms of the way we prepared and all the effort we put into this match," Japan player-coach Takeshi Kawaharazuka told FIFA.com. "My players really put in a great performance and I can be proud of them, even though I was not at all surprised at how well they played. Unfortunately the result is the only thing that counts."
Japan led 2-0 and 3-2 shortly afterwards and came so close to recording their first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup victory since 6 November 2006, when they beat USA 8-4 in Rio de Janeiro with two goals from their famous No7. However, putting an end to this barren spell will be easier said than done for the Japanese.
Sunday's match in Marseille pits them against double world champions Brazil, who kept their cool to overcome Spain 3-2 in their opening match. "We will have to be focussed throughout the match," continued Kawaharazuka. "If we are going to pull off a shock, we have to play at 100 per cent, if not more."
Despite having already played ten matches in three FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups and scored three times, the new 33-year-old coach is showing a great deal of humility as he takes on this unique role. "It's very difficult for me to combine the two jobs, but my team-mates are very patient and always there to support me. I'm so proud that I was given this responsibility and particularly with a group like this," he said.
"We're not going to change the way we play in the next two matches," concluded Kawaharazuka, demonstrating the great faith he has in his team. "We need to keep on working as hard as we can while never forgetting how lucky we are to be representing our country.
"I want my players to think of the team first and foremost ahead of any individual concerns." With a mindset like that and a firm hand at the reins, Japan clearly have a promising future ahead of them.