Isozaki: We can match the best

A cornerstone of Japan's defence for the past decade, Hiromi Isozaki is preparing for her third FIFA Women's World Cup. Captain of the Nadeshiko since 2004, the 31-year-old Tasaki Perule FC player broke the 100-cap mark this year and set another landmark in June by making her 200th appearance in the domestic league. As her team's first match on Chinese soil against England looms into view, she spoke to How do you feel going into this tournament compared with before your first two FIFA Women's World Cups?
Hiromi Isozaki: My first appearance came back in 1999 and I was so nervous I just played like a woman possessed. It had looked like I was going to miss the 2003 tournament because of a muscle strain but one of my team-mates picked up a more serious injury and that meant I had to play, although I wasn't able to produce my best form. Prior to the last two World Cups I was just so busy thinking about my own game, but this time around I feel more relaxed and am able to really look forward to it. I expect my younger team-mates are as nervous as I was so, as a senior squad member, I intend to support them as much as I can to ensure they perform to the best of their ability.

You have been captain since Hiroshi Ohashi took over as coach after the 2004 Olympic. Speaking as captain, how would you assess this Japan side?
I think the members of the current side are technically the best I've ever played with. But in overall terms, I'd say the team that qualified for the Athens Olympics was even stronger thanks to Yumi Obe, who was our captain and an excellent leader. She gave us an incredible inner strength and team spirit. So far as captain I've tried to lead by example - I hope that by seeing my approach to the game these youngsters will play with even greater determination. That said, the younger players have come on in leaps and bounds and become really dependable team players.

Japan recently drew with Canada and beat Brazil in warm-up matches for China. What did you get out of those matches?
It gave us a taste of playing against some of the strongest sides in the world and it also improved our confidence and composure ahead of the World Cup. I believe the key to success is being able to identify our opponents' strengths and to adapt our tactics quickly. The longer it takes to react to changes in patterns of play, the more likely we are to be caught out. I think we need to communicate well throughout the team and try and keep the pressure off our defence by staying on the front foot. No matter how strong our opponents are, they must have some weaknesses and I trust that we can find them. These days, Japanese teams at every age level are encouraged to work the ball through midfield before making room for a shot, but in the friendlies we focused too much on that approach, which led to a lot of misplaced passes and lost possession. I think it's very important to vary your approach sometimes, like with the occasional long ball.

Your coach favours an attacking style of football. As a defender, have you found his methods difficult to adjust to?
At first it was difficult for me to start making more attacking runs from defensive positions because when I started playing football we were told that it was OK just to defend for about 80 per cent of a 90-minute match. But thanks to his tactics, we've proved we're a match for the world's top teams and I feel really comfortable with his methods now.

Are there any particular players that you'd like to come up against in China?
On a personal level, I'd love to test myself against a team with technically gifted forwards, like Brazil or Nigeria. That said, we're aiming to go as far as possible in the competition so I hope we don't meet one of those teams too early.

Finally, what are Japan's objectives?
First and foremost, we're aiming to make it past the group stage. I'd like to help us win as many matches as possible, to help the players continue to grow as a team and thrive on the world stage. I hope that we're able to perform to our full potential and that we can learn a lot from the experience. I can't wait to get started.