The first Group B match in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup gets underway this Monday at the Ruhrstadion in Bochum when New Zealand, who are making their third World Cup appearance, face off against Japan, who have competed in every edition of the tournament since it began in 1991.
Going into this game morale will be high in the New Zealand camp following a flawless qualification campaign that saw them cruise to victory in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup. Their attacking credentials were proven by they fact that the Football Ferns netted a staggering fifty goals in just five outings while conceding none.
Japan’s route to the World Cup has been less assured. The Nadeshiko only claimed their spot after clinching third place in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup via a hard-fought 2-0 play-off win over China. However their exceptional performance last February during the EAFF Women’s Championship saw the side rise to fourth place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, their highest-ever position.
Both Japan and New Zealand rely heavily on players from their respective local leagues, with only four on either side plying their trade abroad. While this contributes to a more cohesive unit, it means the two sides sometimes lack the experience and competitive edge that can be gained from exposure to European or US league football.
Although they have never met at a FIFA Women's World Cup, Monday’s opponents have gone head to head on four occasions in the past, with Japan winning three international friendlies. The one competitive contest between the sides, at the 2008 Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing, ended in a 2-2 draw, which remains the only point New Zealand have ever won in a FIFA competition.
A comparison of the sides' FIFA Women's World Cup records also gives the edge to Japan. The Asian outfit have reached the Round of 16 once, at the 1995 edition in Sweden when they also beat Brazil 2-1 in the group stage. New Zealand will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky, as they are yet to make it past the group stages in two previous attempts.
0 –New Zealand’s points tally from their two appearances in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, having lost all their games in the 1991 and 2007 tournaments. Will they be able to break their duck in Germany?
“It’s going to be really difficult – it’s arguably our toughest game. The players are well aware that they have to bring their ‘A’ game and if any one player drops below the required standard we could be in trouble. But, generally, if people stick to their task for the full 90 minutes we could get a result like we did at the Olympics,” New Zealand coach John Herdman
"The opening match is important regardless of whom we meet. New Zealand are a team that make up for their lack of techniques with power and speed."
Japan coach Norio Sasaki