Japan have been on the rise in recent years and are now just 180 minutes from their first major silverware. Sweden await in today's FIFA Women’s World Cup™ semi-final in Frankfurt, with the winner to face either USA or France in the same venue on Sunday. Despite the Nadeshiko’s constant progress, trophies have eluded them to date and they are yet to even claim the Asian crown.
Keen observers of the game would have tipped Japan as a dark horse for Germany 2011, with the team advancing into the top five of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking in recent times, having finished fourth at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008. Japan were also the seeded side in Group B at this FIFA Women's World Cup.
Impressive forward Shinobu Ohno, a veteran of the Beijing 2008 team, believes now is the time for Japan to make an indelible mark on the world stage. The INAC Kobe Leonessa player has been an important cog in Japan’s attack in Germany and scored one of the more impressive goals of the tournament, displaying some swift footwork before unleashing a powerful drive in the victory over Mexico.
“Just being in the top four does not necessarily mean we are one of the top countries,” Ohno told FIFA.com. “We need to win a medal and be a champion in order for people in the world to believe in Japan, so still we are not satisfied with our achievements to date.”
The Japan Football Association’s stated aim through their Nadeshiko Vision development scheme is to become world champions by 2015. Defeating reigning champions Germany on their home soil in the quarter-final - the Europeans first loss on the world stage for 12 years - has given Japan extra belief that 2011 could be their year.
“Germany is a country that we had never beaten, but now that we have experienced that challenge, we should not be satisfied and we need to go for the top,” said Ohno. “We realise that the championship is getting closer and closer."
When asked how Japan will approach their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final, Ohno responded: “We will play as a team and try and express what we have been doing for the past four years. We will play to our strengths, not give up, work as a team and try to show some individual strengths. Speed and ball movement will be an important factor against the tall and big players of Sweden.”
The earthquake and tsunami which devastated Japan in March is never far from the minds of the players. The team have endeared themselves to fans in various parts of Germany by displaying a banner at matches reading, ‘To our friends around the world: Thank you friends for your support.'
“There are not a lot of things we can do directly for people suffereing because of the earthquake, but we can try and make a small contribution through football,” Ohno said. “We can express something through football and in that way the Nadeshiko can make small contribution for the people affected.”
Undoubtedly the performance of Japan has been a boost for the nation in a number of aspects. Ohno hopes that the achievements of Germany 2011 will inspire a new generation of talent. “We want young girls and young children to believe in the Nadeshiko and believe that the team is a special thing,” she said. “Hopefully that way, more players will be inspired and want to choose football as their number one sport.”
The idea of reaching the final, and perhaps winning it, would be a case of a long-held dream becoming reality according to Ohno: “I don’t know how I would feel on the pitch in the final. It has been a dream for us for a long time. We can’t imagine how it would feel but we are looking forward to hopefully achieving our dream.”