Japan’s first appearance in the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ quarter-finals for 16 years will take on extra significance for Kozue Ando. The Nadeshiko forward will be a key component of Japan’s attack in their meeting against world champions and host nation Germany in Wolfsburg. But for Ando, it is not only an opportunity to help her team into the last four at a FIFA Women’s World Cup, it is a chance to face the nation where she has plied her trade for the last two years.
It will also mean pitting wits against some of her Duisburg colleagues, with the likes of Germany’s Inka Grings, Simone Laudehr and Alexandra Popp all turning out in the colours of Die Lowinnen (The Lionnesses). As if that is not enough, matchday just happens to be Ando’s 29th birthday.
The odds are perhaps stacked against the Nadeshiko helping Ando celebrate her birthday in style, if history and the respective outings of the last two teams are indicative. Germany were highly impressive in overwhelming France 4-2, while conversely, Japan had a deflating conclusion to their group campaign with their 2-0 loss against England.
The home side are also enjoying nationwide support that seems to grow exponentially every time they take the field at Germany 2011. Local confidence would seem well founded with Germany having won eight and drawn one of their nine meetings with Japan. Germany are also protecting a remarkable 12-year unbeaten run on the world stage, having not lost since a quarter-final exit against USA in 1999; the only time they failed to make the last four.
“Honestly, I wanted to play Germany in the final, but now that we need to play at the quarter finals, the only thing Japan can do is to win this match,” Ando told FIFA.com. “Many of my team-mates are in the German national team and we've always been talking about meeting each other in the final.
“I want to show the ‘Nadeshiko’ football to my team-mates and to the world,” says Ando of a Japan team which has pushed its way into the top five of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking in recent times. “Germany is a strong and good team. We will need to make the most of our few chances that come during the game, withstand pressure when needed and play with rhythm.”
Ando hit 16 goals for Duisburg in the season just gone and says she wants “to go for goal” against Germany, having yet to find the net in the tournament to date. The former Saitama Reinas and Urawa Reds player says the occasion is set to be a special one regardless of the outcome.
“Germany is my second home,” said Ando. “I've been playing for Duisburg for two years now and I have a special feeling to be able to play in the FIFA World Cup in this country." Self-assurance too has come from competing in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, where Ando has a played a role in helping Duisburg to the semi-finals in each of the last two seasons. "Playing in Germany has given me confidence, and I am adapting to the speed and level of aggression required to win the ball.”
It was a mixed time on the last occasion Ando visited the city of Wolfsburg being on the scoresheet, but her Duisburg side fell to a 3-2 defeat. This time will of course be a very different experience and one Ando and her team-mates are highly anticipating. “It is obvious that the stadium will be full,” she said. “I can't wait and we're all really looking forward to it.”