Saori Takarada sits third in the tournament top-scorers’ list with four
Japan face England on Monday for a spot in the final
Hotly anticipated showdown between the two highest-scoring teams
Take a step back in time – almost two years – to the final of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan on 21 October 2016. Korea DPR won the title on penalties, leaving Japan to wonder what might have been. The final could barely have been more dramatic or indeed more heartbreaking for the Little Nadeshiko, and in particular Saori Takarada, who missed a gilt-edge opportunity in normal time and also failed to find the back of the net in the shoot-out.
Less than two years later and Japan’s No11 has got a smile back on her face. Three-time winners Germany were sent packing 3-1 by the East Asians and a semi-final now awaits the Young Nadeshiko. As for Takarada, she is well and truly back on the goal trail, scoring Japan’s third on Friday and her fourth of the tournament in the 73rd minute. The 18-year-old is, of course, delighted with her achievements thus far, although she still believes that there is room for more progress, both individually and for the team as a whole.
"I am really pleased with my performances out on the pitch," she said with a big grin to FIFA.com, "but it is always possible to improve further still."
Showdown of the goal machines In the semi-final, Japan will come up against the highest-scoring team in the tournament to date. England have notched no fewer than 12 goals already and at an average of three per game, with the Young Nadeshiko just a couple adrift of them on 10. It will therefore be very interesting to see how the two sides set themselves up for this clash, and which of the two attacks – and indeed defences – comes out on top.
Takarada already has an idea of what Japan will have to do to make it through to the final, having learned plenty from facing the Germans in the quarter-finals. "To be honest, we really took a lot out of this match," the striker said. "We learned how to take the game to our opponents and bring home the three points, as it were. Winning the tie was our main focus, but the fact that we scored three will give us bags of confidence ahead of facing England. We’ll need to try to keep hold of the ball as much as possible and be really precise when we go on the attack."
And perhaps this quarter-final win will turn out to be a good omen. After all, Japan beat Germany – the hosts, no less – in the last eight at the FIFA Women’s World Cup back in 2011, and we all remember how that tournament ended...