On the eve of Sunday’s Final at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011, FIFA.com put the same seven questions to USA coach Pia Sundhage and her Japan counterpart Norio Sasaki.
FIFA.com: How is the build-up to the final going? Have you done anything different?
Norio Sasaki: We’ve only had had three days’ preparation, so we haven't been able to do anything special in terms of preparation. The coaching staff have been studying videos on USA in action, even as far back as the Beijing Olympics, so the players will be well briefed. Keeping the players in the best possible condition will be key to this final. We are going to do our best to enjoy the game as we always do. We need to go into the match with a sense of momentum and without fear of making mistakes.
Pia Sundhage: The routine will be the same as it was before the France and Brazil games. We’ll be training the day before in the stadium and then have a team talk and individual chats with each player. After breakfast on Sunday morning we’ll show them an inspirational video featuring the best things the girls have done, some of the best goals, and a few funny things to make them laugh. Then everyone will be ready for the big day.
We need to be strong in defence and raise our game a bit up front. Above all, we need to keep the ball a little more.
How would you rate your performances in the tournament so far?
Sasaki: I think our team, in terms of quality, has got better and better during this tournament. We have played against some great teams and got some great results as well. One of the key factors for me as a coach is that all my squad, every single one of the 21 players here, have been fully fit throughout the tournament. This has been vital in terms of strategy and atmosphere. We've been really enjoying our time in Germany as a group. Before the tournament, our ambition as a team was to reach the final, but we weren't exactly sure what our capabilities were. However, after the first match against Mexico, we gained a lot of confidence. I think that's when I realised that we could go all the way.
Sundhage: More than anything else I think we’ve been challenging our limits, especially against Brazil and France. We did a lot of defensive work in those games, but if we look further back, against Korea DPR, for example, we had some really good spells in the second half. We’re in the Final and that’s the most important thing. We need to be strong in defence and raise our game a bit up front. Above all, we need to keep the ball a little more.
What type of game are you expecting on Sunday?
Sasaki: I think it will be a quite tight game and we are going to do our best to keep hold of the ball. However, when we're not in possession we are going to work extremely hard to win the ball back. We're going to have to keep our shape and work as a team.
Sundhage: I think it’s going to be a battle. It’ll be a challenge to see who can keep the ball and who’s got the wit and invention to play that killer pass. The final pass is going to be the key. They’re very good at keeping possession and they have the patience to wait for their opportunity. We’ll try to keep the ball too, so it should be an end-to-end game, but not an especially fast-paced one. The action won’t be switching from one end to the other all the time. The play will be more controlled as it goes from one area to the other.
After the first match against Mexico, we gained a lot of confidence. I think that's when I realised that we could go all the way.
What are your opponent’s major strengths?
Sasaki: The USA are particularly strong from set pieces and when counter attacking. We're going to have to be extremely wary of that. Their tempo is extremely good when they move forward. They are very focused and aggressive in their build-up play and they cross well from wide positions. This is a threat to us, but we played many games against them and we know how to stop them.
Sundhage: Possession, no question. They keep the ball, they play a lot of good passes and they have an awful lot of people involved in the play in midfield and up front. They dictate the pace of the game, and it’s going to be important for us to do the same, though we do need to sharpen up in attack, to be more dynamic and to make that transition a little more quickly, which would force the whole Japanese team to move. They’re good going forward but, listen, they’re also good at defending as a unit. If we can move that defence from one side to the other, somewhere a gap’s going to appear.
If you could take one of your opponent’s squad and put it in your own – who would it be – and why?
Sasaki: This is a very difficult question for me to answer, because I wouldn’t want to change any of my players, but for her experience, I would say Hope Solo.
Sundhage: Homare Sawa
Which of your players will make the difference?
Sasaki: We’re going to need all of the players to make a difference in some way during the match – even our substitutes, who have been doing a great job when called upon, especially the likes of Karina Maruyama and Nahomi Kawasumi.
Sundhage: (Long pause) Well, I’ve got so many good players, but I think Lauren Cheney could make the difference.
What would victory mean to you personally and to your country?
Sasaki: I just hope that it will make people back home happy. I also hope that it might inspire more young girls to play football. The tournament has been receiving excellent coverage back home and I hope that will continue in the coming years.
Sundhage: Winning the World Cup is the biggest thing there is for a coach. We’re living in a bubble here in Germany but we know that the United States is going through something unique and wonderful right now. It reminds me of what happened last year at South Africa 2010, when people were talking about football. It was a great summer and I hope this one is too.