Going on their performances in their opening four games here at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012, allied to the unconditional support they have enjoyed from the stands, it can hardly be classed as a surprise to see the host nation in the last four. That said, it is easy to forget that this is the very first time the Japanese have reached this stage of the global showpiece.
And while the Young Nadeshiko are preparing to take on the holders and two-time competition winners Germany in their semi-final, fellow two-time champions USA take on 2010 runners-up Nigeria – who are determined to go one better at Japan 2012.
Match of the day
Japan - Germany, Tokyo, Tuesday 4 September 2012, 19.30 (local time)
On the basis of their all-round displays in reaching this stage, Germany and Japan’s last-four clash has the feel of a final, though only one of these sides - arguably the two most impressive at the competition thus far - can progress to the title decider. To achieve that aim, the Japanese will surely put their faith in their quick and highly effective passing game, seemingly able to pierce holes in even the tightest backlines.
And that is exactly what the hosts will be up against, with Germany yet to concede a single goal on Japanese soil. Nor are the Europeans far shy of the home nation in goalscoring terms, having struck 12 times in four games (compared to Japan’s 13), of which four came in their quarter-final humbling of Norway.
The other game
Nigeria – USA, Tokyo, Tuesday 4 September 2012, 16.00 (local time)
In contrast to the other two semi-finalists, Nigeria and USA go face-to-face in the last four with both having come close to the exit door along the way. For the Africans, they had to endure a nervy period in their 1-0 quarter-final win against Mexico, when El Tri it was that created the better chances in the second half and extra time. The Americans, for their part, also needed extra time to oust Korea DPR in the last eight – this after only edging into the quarters ahead of China PR on goal difference.
These travails do however mean that both the Falconets and the Stars and Stripes have proven that, in terms of mental toughness, they are a match for anyone. And as is so often the case in football, victory may well go to the side that keeps their nerve, which Nigeria’s Desire Oparanozie and USA’s Chioma Ubogagu both did to score extra-time winners for their respective nations last time out.
Players to watch
Scorers of five goals in four matches thus far, Japan’s Yoko Tanaka and Lena Lotzen of Germany are their countries’ leading goalgetters at the competition on Japanese soil. And given the tournament’s current seven-goal top scorer Kim Un Hwa and her Korea DPR team-mate Kim Su Gyong (five) can no longer add to their tallies, Tanaka and Lotzen will be confident of pressing their claims to the adidas Golden Boot.
24 – The record number of victories amassed by the United States in the history of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, which is just one ahead of Germany’s 23-win total. The two nations have certainly been dominant at this level, having claimed victory in four of the five previous editions of this event. What is more, at Japan 2012 the pair both reached the last four for the fifth time in six attempts.
"My team’s getting better every day. If you want to be better tomorrow, you have to put in the hard work today – that’s our philosophy. After having lost in the final in 2010, we want to reach that stage again in 2012. So, that’s what we’ve been working towards day after day,” Nigeria coach Edwin Okon.