The way of champions is to shape and define an era in their own unique way. The Japanese winners of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ combined precise short passing with tremendous efficiency and new standards in stamina and work rate. Now, on the eve of the gold medal match in the Women's Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, the Nadeshiko are preparing to take their already impressive game to another level, as Aya Miyama told FIFA.com.
“We can now control a match even better than last year," the Japan captain explained, “and we can maintain our rhythm throughout a game, which is another improvement on last year." Miyama, who has 68 caps to her name, is brimming with confidence prior to the rerun of last year's FIFA Women's World Cup final against defending Olympic champions USA. “They'll be 100 per cent up for it and out to take revenge. For our part, it's important to maintain our discipline and not feel any emotional extremes, even if our opponents are the USA," she said.
There is spice and an edge to the eagerly-awaited showdown at Wembley on Thursday evening, when the outcome could well turn on the Asians maintaining their trademark self-control and iron discipline. No other elite women’s team has quite the same ability to focus exclusively on themselves, refusing to be fazed or put off by the opposition.
Typically enough, coach Norio Sasaki and his players are remaining cool and inscrutable in the build-up to the final, as exemplified by right-back Yukari Kinga when she spoke to FIFA.com some two weeks ago: “Even though we are the reigning world champions, we still come here as the challengers." Midfielder Miyama is sticking rigidly to the same line: “The French were better than us in many respects in the semi-final. We need to absorb their fighting spirit for the final."
For all their modesty, the Japanese have undoubtedly taken another step forward at the London tournament, and will be looking to reap the reward for their hard work with another triumph over the ever-powerful USA. However, Miyama does not believe spectacular football is a necessary condition for confirmation of Japan's place near or at the top of the world game. The midfielder instead believes the secret to the progress made by the Nadeshiko is the mental strength to come out on top in tight games, a quality which could be crucial against the North Americans.
“We've worked very hard to make sure we earn our luck," said the 27-year-old, the dominant figure in Japanese women's football alongside FIFA World Player of the Year Homare Sawa. Miyama herself encapsulates the tireless effort and work ethic which have taken Sasaki’s team all the way to the gold medal match. The midfielder covered every blade of grass and won countless loose balls against the French, also setting up both her side’s goals.
Sawa and company know a prerequisite for success against the US girls will be stifling the supply from midfield to goal-hungry strike pair Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. Miyama believes her key task will be rapidly switching play from defence to attack, and stamping her authority on the midfield area: “We have to impose our game on them."
That statement is revealing in the extreme, because for all the self-discipline and understatement, it demonstrates that the Japanese are in the mood not merely to react to their opponents’ strategies, but seek to dominate a match on their own initiative.
And for all the talk in the build-up to the final, Miyama is aware of just what it would mean to secure a second triumph on the world stage in just over a year. “Ever since the 2011 World Cup, the popularity of the women's game in Japan has gone from strength to strength,” the midfielder declared, “so we want to take the next step and establish our sport even more firmly at home with another success here in London."