Boasting a fluid, skilful style of play and highly clinical finishing, Japan have arguably been the most impressive team on show at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014.
Prior to the much-anticipated final between the Little Nadeshiko and Spain, FIFA.com met up with Eiji Ueda, Head of delegation U-17 Japan Women's National Team, to discuss the secrets of their current success and the future of football in his homeland.
“I’m very satisfied with the way in which we’ve played so far, because we’ve won every game, scored a lot of goals and only conceded once,” said Ueda, no stranger to women’s football, having coached his nation’s senior team from 2002 to 2004, building the foundations for their eventual triumph at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™.
“For me the biggest difference between this U-17 side and the one from two years ago is that all of the players are capable of defending and winning the ball back. It’s through defending well that teams can re-launch an attack. That’s our approach,” he continued.
The fact that the east Asians possess the most prolific attack, with 11 players having notched 21 goals, as well as the least porous defence, comes as no surprise to the Japanese official.
“We’ve placed a strong emphasis on versatility and the ability to compete all over the pitch. In my opinion, the goal that our right-back scored against Paraguay is the perfect illustration of our approach. We regained possession in the middle of the park; the opposition’s defence were all at sea.
"She was able to take advantage by quickly surging forward and scoring, despite the fact that her main job is to defend. That move was symbolic of what we’re trying achieve: reacting and attacking speedily in order to catch our opponents by surprise.”
The former striker is quick to suggest that the teams that suffered at the hands of Japan in Costa Rica may well have got off lightly.
“We didn’t necessarily choose players based on their finishing skills. They haven’t been specifically focusing on that aspect in training. But I think it’s an area we could improve on, as we don’t score as many goals as we should. When you look at the number of chances that we generate, our conversion percentage is actually quite low.”
Furthermore, Ueda is keen to stress the importance of the senior team’s previous successes. “As world champions, they’re definitely an example to follow. They tend to defend and attack as a unit, and that’s what our players have been trying to do here. Asako Takemoto Takakura has tried to reproduce that style, adapting it for our 17-year-olds.”
The flip side of that coin is that the young talents that have blossomed during the tournament will likely enhance the senior XI over the next few years.
“We’ve got very skilful players, and our national coach spends a lot of time on that part of the game, which will benefit our senior team in the long run. We’re trying to prepare our girls as best we can to perform at the top, so that they can move up to the first team and deal with the changes that will affect football worldwide in the future. We need to learn, reflect and adapt so that we can forge our own path.”
And that path leads directly towards an event that the Japanese will be taking extremely seriously, one that involves players currently representing the Asian country at various youth levels: the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments in 2020.
And according to Ueda, an even greater ambition has begun to emerge in the Land of the Rising Sun. “At the Japanese FA, we have a dream that the senior men’s team can become world champions by 2050. I know that it’s a trickier challenge for the men than for the women, but I believe that one day we’ll manage it.”