Mere hours before they kick off their FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup campaign against Group C rivals Mexico in Augsburg, an atmosphere of calm purpose reigns in the Japan camp. Following a series of training sessions and briefings from their coaching staff, the young Nadeshiko have been granted some welcome free time to kick back and enjoy themselves in the build-up to their opening game.
FIFA.com took advantage of this down-time to interview captain Saki Kumagai and young starlet Mana Iwabuchi, whose goals and stylish play earned her the adidas Golden Ball awarded to the best player at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2008.
“We’re happy to be here representing our country, and we’re going to take it one game at a time. We’ve got three tough group opponents, but we’re aiming to go a long way at Germany 2010,” said Kumagai, making her second appearance at this competition having helped Japan reach the last eight at Chile 2008.
“Chile was an extraordinary experience as it was my first major tournament. This time, with the benefit of experience, I want to go a step further here in Germany. We had a good team in 2008, but I’m sure this side will be even better,” added the Japanese skipper.
‘We want to entertain the fans’
Iwabuchi, for her part, is also keen to make an impact on German soil and translate her impressive form at New Zealand 2008 to an even bigger stage. “We want to enjoy this World Cup and experience what it feels like to take part in a tournament this size. It’s a World Cup and we want to have a good time and entertain the fans!” said the Nadeshiko No10.
“The games in New Zealand were very special. I had a great time over there and we played really well. But that tournament’s in the past and we’re now totally focused on Germany 2010. Two years have gone by and this will be a different story.”
That said, fate has decreed that Iwabuchi will once again cross paths with England, the team that knocked Japan out on penalties after a 2-2 draw at the quarter-final stage in New Zealand. “All the teams in our group are really strong and there’s no clear favourite.
"But it’ll be a special game against England. We’re up against them again and we want to get our own back,” said the grinning youngster, one of five Japanese and nine English veterans of that match in Hamilton in November 2008 also in their country’s U-20 squads this summer.
And finally, in a nod to Sunday’s 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Final, both players expressed their admiration for world champions Spain’s eye-catching brand of attacking football. “I’d love to play like Xavi does,” said midfielder Kumagai, while forward Iwabuchi came out in praise of Xavi’s Barcelona team-mate: Argentina idol Lionel Messi.
“Messi is the best. He may not have had the best of tournaments in South Africa, but he played a really big role for his team despite not getting on the scoresheet. I’m hoping to score the goals here that he couldn’t over there.”