Consistency, solidity and practice makes perfect have been the watchwords of Japanese football in recent times. Building from the bottom up, the Nadeshiko have stuck faithfully to an approach that has served them well at youth level, brought them the ultimate prize at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ and given coach Norio Sasaki a tried and tested squad to work with at London 2012. When it comes to planning for a major tournament, the Japanese leave little to chance.
What changes the world champions do make tend to be eye-catching. Take the promotion of 28-year-old goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto, who was their first-choice goalkeeper at the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007 under coach Hiroshi Ohashi, but who served as understudy to Ayumi Kaihori when the Japanese conquered the world last year. Just when it seemed as if she had slipped down the pecking order for good, however, Fukumoto has found herself back in a starting slot in London, even if she is at a loss to explain why.
“The fact is, I don’t know how it’s happened,” she told FIFA.com with a sheepish smile after her side had overcome Brazil 2-0 in Friday’s quarter-final in Cardiff.
“I don’t know what’s changed. I didn’t play in the Women’s World Cup last year and that hurt because I would have loved to have been out there. After that I just got my head down and worked hard and it’s paid off for me. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the next competition though.”
Though she might find her elevation hard to explain, Fukumoto’s performance against the Brazilians showed that Sasaki had made a wise choice in handing her a starting place. With Japan playing a counter-attacking game, the Brazilians dominated possession for long periods and spent most of the match camped outside the Japanese box. In total the South Americans forced ten corner-kicks and had seven shots on goal, all of them expertly dealt with by the reinstated Japanese No1.
“She had a very big hand in Japan’s win,” Brazil custodian Andreia told FIFA.com after the final whistle had sounded. “It’s tough for a goalkeeper when you have to spend the whole game dealing with balls into the box and shots on goal, but she acquitted herself very well.”
“I think concentration was the secret in this case,” said Fukumoto, who has conceded just the one goal in the three games she has played at London 2012 so far, the keeper having been rested for Japan’s final group game against South Africa along with several other first-teamers.
“Obviously I’m very happy with things, but it’s not all down to me,” she said modestly. “It’s impossible to defend the goal on your own and this is all thanks to our defensive system, which is amazing.”
Before signing off, Fukumoto explained why she is expecting another busy day on Monday, when the Nadeshiko take on France at Wembley in the semi-finals: “They’re a quick and skilful side and most of their players are tall and strong. They have everything and we’ll need to be solid in defence again to prevent them causing problems when they attack us on the break.”