Miyama-Sawa double act driving Japan

If there is one lesson above all others that upcoming opponents can learn from watching Japan’s victory over Mexico at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, it is to keep a close eye on Homare Sawa whenever Aya Miyama steps up to take a set-piece. Indeed, two of the former's three goals in yesterday's 4-0 win were supplied by the latter, via a corner and a free-kick.

“Yes, those are some of the set-plays we’ve worked on in training, but Sawa’s movement helps me so much," Miyama told FIFA.com. "I have to thank her, because her intelligence out on the field makes my deliveries much more effective."

Sawa, though, was deflecting praise in the opposite direction: “Half of those goals belong to her. She supplied me with two perfect passes and I’m very grateful.”

The veteran Japanese captain’s hat-trick was her first treble at a FIFA Women’s World Cup in what is her fifth trip to the finals. “It was a surprise, because when you play in my position it’s hard to get on the score-sheet so many times,” explained the midfielder. “It was unexpected, but quite aside from the hat-trick what really matters is that the team showed their strength as a unit.”

Half of those goals belong to her. She supplied me with two perfect passes and I’m very grateful.

With so much FIFA Women’s World Cup experience under her belt, how does she bring that to bear in her role as skipper? “In my opinion, my responsibility as captain is to play the Japanese way out on the pitch, encourage my team-mates so they never give up in any match, and to teach the younger players,” said the 32-year-old, who, as FIFA.com spots during the interview, has a football and a Japanese flag painted on to two of the fingernails of her right hand. “One of my colleagues did it for me. It’s brought me good luck.”** **

Chasing history Victory over the Mexicans has secured Japan’s involvement in the quarter-finals at Germany 2011, a stage the nation only ever reached once in their five previous campaigns: at Sweden 1995. “Our next objective is to top the group,” said Sawa. “And I want a medal too.”

Her partner-in-crime Miyama, for her part, is aiming even higher: “I want us to be crowned champions, but there are still things we need to work on. There are phases of play when we let opponents create dangerous situations, and we also need to dictate the tempo better. We’ve got to stick to our style, but also be more fluid.

“Today Sawa made history, and I have to thank her for that because through her I made a bit of history too,” said Miyama with a smile and a bow, as the conversation concluded. “Let’s hope we can keep on doing that.”