The draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Frankfurt on 29 November threw up some interesting match ups at Germany 2011, not least Match 19 which sees England face Japan in Augsburg.
The two teams met four years ago in one of the most memorable matches of the tournament. Aya Miyama opened the scoring in the 55th minute but a late brace from Kelly Smith looked to have sealed the tie for England. However, with the last kick of the match, Miyama’s free-kick beat Rachel Brown to give the Nadeshiko a precious point: their first ever against European opposition in eight attempts.
FIFA.com caught up with Miyama (AM) and Smith (KS) before the game to speak about the past, present and future.
FIFA.com: Kelly, what are your memories of that match in Shanghai?
KS: Well, having scored the two goals, we were clinging on for the last five few minutes until Miyama’s free-kick right at the end. We were starting to believe it was our first three points of the World Cup before losing two of them thanks to her great free-kick. That left us with a few mixed emotions seeing as we had almost done it, but despite it being a draw it felt like a loss having conceded in the final minutes.
Kelly was named Player of the Match ahead of you – do you think she deserved that accolade?
AM: Oh yes. Kelly had a great impact on the game. I was a bit amazed and surprised when one of our defenders, who was the best in Japan at the time, was completely out manoeuvred by her when she scored, so I was very impressed with her level of play. Looking ahead to Tuesday’s game, I don’t think we cannot stop her with individuals, but as a team we have the ability to prevent her making her mark.
What do you think about Aya as a player?
KS: She’s a quality footballer, very skilful, technical, with a great eye for a pass and her work rate is amazing. She’s deadly from set-pieces; I don’t know how she does it. She has such quality on the ball to put it where she wants and it’s just a pleasure to watch as long as it’s not against us!
Aya, have you been happy with your performance at this FIFA Women’s World Cup so far?
AM: Personally I’m looking to drift inside more, as well as continuing to cover the wings, and as the rest of the team are willing to allow that more, I expect to improve as I go.
And you Kelly?
KS: I’m not playing my best football at the moment, I’m struggling a little bit for form, but most players go through that. So hopefully as long as I keep working hard for myself and the team, things will come good for me. To be honest I don’t think any of us are particularly happy with the way we’ve started the tournament, but I feel like we are improving with each game and we’ll see more improvement and confidence in the match with Japan.
What are your thoughts about meeting England?
AM: This is our biggest challenge so far in all aspects as a team. They have a lot of players with height in important positions, and I feel it’s a bit difficult for us to challenge in that respect. But it’s not just height, but rather tactics and strategy. They are very well controlled and in comparison to Mexico and New Zealand I think we will be tested much more.
Why are Japan such a difficult team to play against?
KS: They play with limited touches and are so comfortable on the ball. They’re really composed and their movement is so good, especially up front. They’re so hard to mark and very quick but we’ll obviously have a game plan in place to try to neutralise their players and win the match. We’re underdogs, but we’re up for it. We obviously want to top the group and so do they.
How important is it for Japan to top the group?
AM: It’s very important and I’m confident that we’ll win. This is a better Japan team than four years ago. A lot of players have gone overseas during the last few years and their techniques have greatly improved. Our understanding and familiarity with the tactics and strategy was use has improved over time as well, allowing us to work better as a team. Plus, I’ve got a feeling we’ll improve as the games go on.