Japan will be looking to hit hard as they open their bid for Asia's first FIFA Women's World Cup title with a Group B clash against rivals New Zealand tomorrow. As China, who lost to USA in the 1999 final, failed to make it to the FIFA Women's World Cup for the first time Asian hopes are lying with Japan, Australia and Korea DPR.
And the fourth-ranked Japanese, the group's top seeds, are favourites against the 24th-ranked New Zealanders who have failed to win a match in their two previous World Cup appearances in 1991 and 2007. Japan, nicknamed the Nadeshiko, are no shrinking violets having played in all five previous World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals in 1995.
But Japan coach Norio Sasaki remains wary of their Kiwi opponents. "The opening match will be important regardless of whom we fight. New Zealand are a team that make up for their lack of techniques with power and speed," said Sasaki, who also has an eye on forthcoming group games against Mexico on 1 July and England on 5 July.
"Mexico, who have defeated the United States in continental qualifying, have tremendous attacking power in five players up front. England play orthodox football and have a formidable all-around player in Kelly Smith but we can outdo them in coordination. Each team have their particular style," added Sasaki.
Captain Homare Sawa is convinced her side have the potential to medal after narrowly missing out at the Beijing Olympics and claiming their first Asian Games title last year. "I feel the time has come. We will work hard and aim high," said the 32-year-old Sawa, Japan's most-capped female player. Forward Yuki Nagasato added: "Whether we can score a goal or not that's the key. I will be hungry in aiming for goals."
Both teams have been able to study each other closely over the past few days as they share a hotel not far from Bochum's World Cup Stadium. "We've seen footage of Japan recently and they're looking really sharp. We'll go in as prepared as we can and put up a really good fight," said New Zealand midfielder Katie Hoyle, 23, whose side limbered up for their campaign with warm-up wins against Wales and Colombia and a narrow 1-0 loss to Denmark. New Zealand play England on 1 July and Mexico on 5 July.
Meanwhile, the Japanese will pay tribute during the three-week tournament to the global football family for their support after the earthquake and tsunami which devastated their country three months ago. The Japanese Football Association (JFA) said that their players will take to the pitch for each of their matches carrying a banner reading: "To our friends around the world. Thank you for your support."
The JFA added that an announcement will also be made before all matches. It will state: "On behalf of the Japanese football family - including those who suffered as a result of the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 - the Japan Football Association would like to express its heartfelt appreciation to the world football family for the wonderful support and kind cooperation it received with reconstruction in the country. Thank you very much."