Two coaches, two perspectives, one goal

The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2014 final between Japan and Spain will see the two most tactically astute teams in the tournament go head-to-head. And of course, the coaches involved are arguably as responsible for this success as the players on the pitch.

Although it is Japan coach Asako Takemoto Takakura’s first experience of standing on the touchline at a World Cup, Spain’s Jorge Vilda is making his second U-17 Women’s World Cup appearance, having guiding the Iberians to third at Trinidad and Tobago 2010.

Both coaches spoke to about their playing philosophies, the opposing team’s strengths and what they learned from their first meeting in Group C’s opening game, which Japan won 2-0.

What special considerations do you have to apply when working with U-17 girls?Asako Takemoto Takakura (Japan coach): For me, the most difficult aspect is their understanding of football. At this age, the players aren’t so familiar with the game, so it isn’t easy to make the right decisions during a match and assess each situation as it unfolds. First I have to teach them basic tactics, but what’s great is that they have open minds and learn very quickly. Jorge Vilda (Spain coach): The girls are very thankful, they appreciate every little thing someone does for them. They’re very disciplined and follow all the rules rigorously. It’s usually a little more difficult to coach boys of the same age, as they’re not usually as organised. The girls play football because they truly love the sport.

What is your playing philosophy? Which tactics do you prefer? Takakura: For me, it is very important to establish the right distance between the players, particularly between defence and attack. I’m always explaining to them how important it is to position yourself to fit any given situation. Vilda: In defence, we want to win the ball as quickly as possible. Then, when we’re in possession, we want to use combination play to spread the game out. We can play several systems: we use 4-3-3 at present, but 4-2-3-1 is no problem either.

Which do you think are the opposition's main strengths and key players? Takakura: I think Spain’s style of play is very similar to that of the men’s first team. Individually, they’re all very capable both tactically and technically. Each player has a clear role on the pitch during a game. Nahikari Garcia is very strong and has scored a lot of goals, but I think Spain are very well equipped in all positions. Vilda:Japan play very dynamic football. They’re also technically very strong; they hardly ever misplace a pass and have a good balance within the team. All the players are extremely talented, but I think Hina Sugita still stands out.

Your teams have already played each other during the group stage. What did you learn from this match? Takakura:It was the first World Cup match for most of our players. They were gaining experience at this level for the first time and saw that players from other teams are good in one-on-one situations and how fast they can be. They understood how serious a match on the world stage is. I was very pleased that we managed to score first and stayed focused all the way through the match. Vilda:We faced a very tough opponent and, quite honestly, we didn’t expect them to be that strong. Japan surprised us and that had a psychological effect on my players; they lost their confidence. I was most impressed with the performance of our goalkeeper, Elena de Toro. She played magnificently and stopped us conceding more goals.

What have you personally learned from this tournament so far? Takakura:I’ve learned how tough it is to win at this level. There’s so much to think about before I send my team out onto the pitch. It’s extremely difficult to compete against players from so many different countries around the world. Vilda:I’ll always remember how well my players have behaved without exception – I’ve been very impressed by that. The huge turnout of fans and exemplary tournament organisation has also been very impressive.

What would this trophy mean for your country? Takakura:It would give our players enormous self-confidence and would also encourage all young players in Japan. The country would get a huge shot in the arm if we were to win the tournament. It would also give my team tremendous encouragement to keep working and improving so that they can be even better in the future. Vilda:For us to reach the final is already a historic achievement, so to win would be incredible. It’d help to make the sport more popular. I’d also personally dedicate the title to my father .