Japan win French hearts on road to glory

  • Japan secured the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup

  • French fans fell in love with the Young Nadeshiko, and vice versa

  • Saori Takarada and Moeka Minami spoke to FIFA.com about their France 2018 adventure

It is often said that fourth is the worst position in which to finish. After watching their own team, Les Bleuettes, end the tournament in fourth spot at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, the French public were in need of a pick-me-up, and it was another team in blue, Japan, who subsequently provided them with it, as they put in a sensational display on Friday to claim their first world crown at this level.

“I’m delighted that we were able to show what Japanese football is all about in France,” said the smiling captain of the newly crowned world champions, Moeka Minami, World Cup trophy and adidas Bronze Ball award in hand. “We’ve loved our time here. People have been so welcoming. If we can say that we’ve paid them back in some way by playing an attractive brand of football, then that’s even better.”

Although fans in Brittany had become accustomed to watching the Japanese excel since the beginning of the tournament, they were nevertheless impressed by the veritable masterclass put on against Spain at Stade de la Rabine in Vannes, which involved overlapping runs, crossfield passing, short interplay, wonderful dribbling and fantastic goals.

Boasting the least porous defence (three goals conceded) and most potent attack (15 goals recorded), Japan claimed the majority of the glory at France 2018, with the exception of the adidas Golden Ball award, which went to the tournament’s joint-top goalscorer, Spain’s Patricia Guijarro, who was seen providing some of the Japanese players with her autograph at the end of the final!

Not only were the Young Nadeshiko respectful of their opponents, they have proven themselves to be highly respectful of the rules, a quality that saw them pick up the FIFA Fair Play award. “This award is just as important to us as the others we’ve earned,” said Saori Takarada, winner of the adidas Silver Ball and Bronze Boot accolades. “Our team won it at the last U-20 Women’s World Cup, and so we had to make sure that we did too.”

One thing is certain: no previous Japanese side had ever held aloft the U-20 Women’s World Cup. “This is the greatest day of my life,” said Minami. Takarada added: “I don’t really have the words to express what I’m feeling. I’m overwhelmed with joy.”

That joy was shared with the watching French fans, who were won over by Japan’s teamwork and exciting attacking play. And they may not have long to wait to see a selection of Futoshi Ikeda’s charges in action again, as some players are likely to return to France next summer with the senior team for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™.

“Winning this tournament was a dream, and playing at the Women’s World Cup next year would be just as incredible,” admitted Takarada, leaving the final word to her captain. “I love France – I plan on coming back, but not just for a holiday!” Minami said with confidence.