Nadeshiko look to boost home spirits
© AFP

Japan coach Norio Sasaki believes that the recent problems suffered by the island nation are proving to be a powerful motivator for his team at the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Nicknamed 'the Nadeshiko' - a pink flower symbolising grace and beauty - the team did not even know if they could compete in Germany after the earthquake and tsumani that devastated Japan in March. But they got through their first match with an assured 2-1 win over New Zealand and are now preparing to take on Mexico in tomorrow's second Group B tie here with a place in just their second quarter-finals at stake.

"At the start it wasn't even sure if the team could come to Germany," said Sasaki. "There were many meetings about this situation and what to do. There were so many problems. Japanese teams normally train at night using lights, but there were power shortages in eastern Japan so some players weren't even able to train.

"We were only able to do running and not prepare with the ball. On the other side, this has given strength and motivation to the team. Knowing you are playing for the people of Japan is very motivating. If you overcome this situation it is very good. To win the World Cup you have to overcome all types of problems."

This has given strength and motivation to the team. Knowing you are playing for the people of Japan is very motivating.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki on the impact of this year's earthquake and tsunami

Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar believes Japan will be hard to beat. "It's the opportunity to do something big for their country," said the former Mexican men's international, paying tribute to his rivals. "We can relate to that, we had two strong earthquakes, one in 1985. Our hearts and our prayers are with them."

The fourth-ranked Japanese have beaten Mexico in five of their last seven meetings including the play-offs for the World Cup in 2003 and 2007. But although Mexico are ranked 22nd in the world, they have beaten the USA in qualifying for the World Cup and Sweden in a friendly.

Sasaki said: "Approaching Mexico, it's very special; an opportunity to advance. Mexico have made great progress. It's important to tell the players that the team is not as it was before. It has progressed over the last few years and is a very good team now."

Mexico scored their first point in what is only their second World Cup when they held England 1-1 earlier in the week. Cuellar added: "Japan is a team who have given us a lot of trouble in the past. We really like the way they play, a very tactical and smart game.

"But for us it's the time not be afraid, a time to challenge ourselves in the best way possible and to beat a difficult opponent in Japan tomorrow. It's definitely the most important game we have in our short history."