Hosts Japan plays Chile in final group game
Crunch match to take place in Miyagi
Midfielder Yui Hasegawa seeks defensive improvements
Japan’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 hang by a thread following disappointing results in their opening two games. Yet despite that, the hosts are not throwing in the towel and will be giving everything in their final match.
Japan sit third in Group E after an opening 1-1 draw with Canada was followed by a 1-0 defeat by Great Britain. The loss severely dented Japan’s chances of progressing past the group stage, but it was the nature of the winning goal – forward Ellen White nodding in a cross from the right wing – that most frustrated Nadeshiko coach Asako Takakura.
“We’d concentrated on defending against crosses from the flanks, because that is one of Great Britain’s strengths,” Takakura told FIFA.com after the game. “Conceding the match-winning goal like that was extremely disappointing.”
Despite that setback, Takakura is confident her charges can lift themselves for their crunch final game against Chile.
“I felt we improved from the opening game in several areas, especially our concentration in defence and our ability to get more players forward in attack. We’ll tidy up a few more things and try our best in the next match,” Takakura said.
The Nadeshiko players also are determined to learn lessons from the defeat and produce an improved performance against Chile on Tuesday. Attacking midfielder Yui Hasegawa admitted that the opening draw influenced how Japan approached the Great Britain fixture.
“We struggled to score against Canada, so I think we were all keen to shoot more often this time. But we didn’t set a defensive foundation that would allow us to go looking for goals. We were often outnumbered and couldn’t apply pressure on them,” explained Hasegawa.
“When our forwards pushed up, our players on both flanks had to be careful not to leave any gaps behind them. We needed to make sure we didn’t allow our opponents any room to deliver crosses from the flanks.”
Despite the intention to chase goals against Team GB, the Nadeshiko’s attack-minded players often found themselves occupied with defensive duties and were unable to get on the scoresheet. Even so, Hasegawa remains certain that Japan can tighten their defence and, in turn, create more attacking opportunities against La Roja.
“There’s not long until our next game and it’s a different opponent. I think we’ll have more time in possession. If we can get the ball in good positions, our attack will flow from there. We just need to make some adjustments,” Hasegawa concluded.
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Olympic glory might not be the only motivation for the Japanese players. Ten years have passed since the Nadeshiko won the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™. Japan then picked up the silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics and reached the 2015 World Cup Final, but since then, success on the international stage has been scarce.
Indeed, Japan failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and were eliminated from the 2019 Women’s World Cup in the Round of 16. A victory against Chile would both revive the hosts’ quest for gold and be a step on the path towards Japan becoming a powerhouse of the women’s game once more. The country’s football fans will be hoping the turnaround in their fortunes starts in Miyagi on Tuesday.