Aya Miyama is the perfect embodiment of Japan's* *values and culture. A technically-gifted and efficient ball-playing midfielder, the *Nadeshiko *captain is also a reserved and dignified leader off the field.
A two-time Asian Footballer of the Year, Miyama was the perfect counterpoint to superstar Homare Sawa in Japan’s unexpected run to the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ crown in 2011. Now Miyama is perhaps the team’s most pivotal player thanks to her set-piece delivery and midfield scheming. FIFA.com spoke to Miyama ahead of Japan’s mouth-watering quarter-final against old rivals Australia to hear about Japan's* *form, the pressure that comes with being world champions and more.
FIFA.com: Aya, have Japan found their best form in the tournament yet?
Aya Miyama: I think we are not in the best form yet - I should say 60 per cent after we've played the Round of 16. We could show our concentration and ability to play and keep in step with each other on the pitch, and I think these are getting better, but it also must be noted that Netherlands did not come to eliminate our strengths.
*Are the *Nadeshiko *better than four years ago?
*I think we are better, as the empirical value of each of the players is higher and we also now have spent a lot of time together with the same group of players. It means we know each other’s game even more. I think this is a great advantage, especially when we are in the knockout stage, where we will have close games and a strong mentality is needed. I believe our players can maintain the strong motivation which is something we've gained by experience.
*What is the team’s mentality like now as world champions compared to four years when you were underdogs?
*Once we're in the tournament, I don't really feel the difference. I'm focused on winning every match and I'm looking to continue that for all the seven matches we have in the tournament.
*Is the pressure greater for the players in this tournament compared to before Germany 2011?
*The team might have some kind of a pressure but I personally don't feel that.
I think we are not in the best form yet, I should say 60 per cent.
*Did the team set goals before Canada 2015?
*Not as a whole group, but yes, we do talk to each other. We have the will to win the tournament again, to make the dream of back-to-back-titles come true. Of course, it's something we have never experienced before. Even though we know it's very difficult, we all have the desire to achieve this.
*There were four AFC teams in the Round of 16 at Canada 2015, and three reached the last eight. Is this a fair representation of Asia’s strength at world level?
*There are so many aspects we need to talk about, such as opponents and conditions, so I'm not sure whether we can say that this is a fair representation of Asia's strength, but I will say it is great that we have three teams from Asia in the quarter-finals.
*You have had many great games against Australia. What are these matches typically like?
*We have been facing each other so many times over the years, but we will play as if we are competing for the first time against Australia. They are one of the best teams in terms of gaining momentum in the tournament now. We need to evaluate the opponent in a calm way, and at the same time play with a strong conviction that we will win. Australia play aggressive football from the start and we need to handle that well.