Despite seeing his side overcome Germany en route to topping their section in impressive fashion, Japan coach Norio Sasaki is in no doubt who the favourites are to win the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. "Having watched the games in the other groups, Brazil and Korea (DPR) are easily the two strongest teams left."
And as fate would have it, Sasaki and his charges will be facing off against their Asian neighbours at the Estadio Municipal de La Florida on Monday. At stake is a place in the semi-finals.
"We have lost to them twice, but we are better prepared this time and we've got our sights on making it to the last four of this competition," adds the smiling Japan coach, who is in confident mood after his side progressed from Group C with a one hundred per cent record.
A look at the history books suggests the Japanese face a tall order in Santiago. In 19 meetings between the two sides in all categories, the Nadeshiko have won only three times, losing thirteen and drawing the other three. Judging by the form of Sasaki's side in Chile, however, they could be on the point of improving that record, so well have they performed up to now.
Captain Rumi Utsugi has proved herself to be a quality playmaker, and midfielder Natsuko Hara has attracted rave reviews for her creative play. And when asked about the supposed physical superiority of their rivals on Monday, the No10 shrugged off suggestions she and her team-mates might be outmuscled. "When I was young I learnt to play football against my father and my brothers, so I'm not bothered about us being short and thin. We don't see it as a disadvantage and we prefer to focus on our strong points, which are our organisation and team play."
Hara's coach believes his team have other strengths as well, ones that could help them oust the title holders. "We pay a lot of attention to details, to things that nobody else bothers about, and we are always very focused."
The Korean enigma
In qualifying for Chile 2008, Korea DPR got the better of the Japanese in the final of the 2007 AFC U-19 Women's Championship, held in the Chinese city of Chongqing. The Asian champions got off to a bad start when they arrived in South America, however, losing to Brazil in their opening game, not that coach Choe Kwang Sok was overly concerned about that, putting defeat down to tiredness after a long flight.
Choe and his compatriots have been reluctant to reveal much more information during their stay in Chile, attending the obligatory post-match press conferences, but staying tight-lipped the rest of the time. This is a team that does its talking on the pitch, with the attacking duo of Ra Un Sim and Ri Jong Sim driving opposing defences to distraction and their team-mates keeping their shape and discipline behind them.