Japan will go into their opening game of China 2007 determined not to let a more physical England side knock them out of their stride. Coach Hiroshi Ohashi's team face their Group A rivals in Shanghai knowing that victory could go a long way towards earning them a quarter-final place, especially given they face in their second fixture an Argentina outfit potentially demoralised by their 11-0 rout against Germany in Monday's tournament curtain-raiser.
However, speaking to reporters in the build-up to Tuesday's match, Ohashi stressed that his players needed to "stay calm and play our usual game". Japan have earned notable results against physically stronger opposition already this year, beating Norway and drawing with Sweden and Canada and this has bred confidence in a group beaten just twice in 14 outings in 2007. "It doesn't matter how England play, it's a question of us performing in our usual style," added Ohashi, who for all his tactical versatility oversees a team whose strengths lie along the customary Japanese lines of neat passing and quick movement.
Forward Shinobu Ohno, who scored the only goal against Norway in February, explained: "England are a big, physical team but with our speed and dribbling skills we will try to beat them. We played Canada recently and they are quite similar to England, big and strong, so it was good preparation." The 2-1 victory over Brazil on 2 September that followed their goalless draw with Canada further strengthened Japanese self-belief and for Ohno, the presence of playmaker Homare Sawa in their ranks gives added reason to approach these finals with optimism.
"She is the heartbeat of the team," Ohno told FIFA.com of her NTV Beleza colleague. "She has got a good touch and she organises us. Her game is about passing and dribbling and she is capable of the unexpected - she sometimes surprises even us with the things she does, the balls she gives us." Coach Ohashi was more reticent about the expected impact of Japan's No10, who scored three goals in three appearances at the last FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003. "I expect her to play well but this team is not only about Sawa," said Ohashi. "I don't want us to be affected when she has an off-day, I expect her to do a good job but it's not just about her."
Ohashi seldom misses an opportunity to promote the team ethic and he hopes it will pay off for a Japan side seeking to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 1995. The coach defended his declared target of a place in the last eight, telling a journalist that "we are currently ranked tenth in the FIFA ranking and this is a tournament with 16 teams". A pragmatic response and striker Onho also got to the point when asked about Japan's first meeting with England. "As a team we think we have to win this game if we want to get out of the group," she said bluntly.