- How much potential do the Japanese have?
- How have they developed during the group stage?
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By Ai Yoshiizumi with Japan
Japan are the youngest team at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, with the majority of their players appearing in a World Cup for the first time. During the course of their three group matches, the fearless Nadeshiko met problems head-on and solved them together as a team.
“The team has huge hidden strength,” said coach Asako Takakura. “They’ve got great potential and can grow a lot if they’re given the opportunity.”
Their next match – a last-16 tie with the Netherlands – might provide them with that opportunity. Here are three reasons why this young team is on the verge of a breakthrough.
Strength in depth
Japan were already struggling with injury problems ahead of the tournament, problems which intensified in the build-up and after their opening match against Argentina. The team responded with energy and determination, with third and fourth-choice players given their chance to shine and taking it, revealing the squad’s strength in depth. Now that Takakura has a full roster to choose from, Japan are a rejuvenated outfit with enhanced firepower. “I’m glad that we’ve not built a team that is dependent on just one player,” said Takakura.
Ability to cope with pressure
A committed Japan side were looking for three points against Argentina but came up against a sturdy defence and had to be content with a scoreless draw. Though the Japanese media were gloomy about their prospects of qualifying, the team took heart from their performance and showed their determination to make life hard for the opposition in their next outing against Scotland. The delight with which the players and the bench celebrated their goals in a 2-1 victory showed the pressure that they had been under and that they had overcome.
Learning from England’s intensity
Buoyed by the win over Scotland, the Nadeshiko faced England in high spirits. Despite playing some enterprising football, they were defeated 2-0, mainly due to a difference in quality in front of the goal. They learned a lot from the experience, however.
“We faced more physicality and speed than we’re used to,” said the team’s youngest player, Jun Endo. It can be argued, though, that Japan needed to face a team of England’s intensity before heading into the knockout phase.
Ahead of the last-16 tie versus the Netherlands, the mood in the Japan camp is still upbeat.
“I would like the players to start showing their qualities in this tournament now,” Takakura said. “I would like everyone to see the team’s hidden strength. I really don’t want our tournament to end with this game or the next game. I want us to get stuck into this tournament.”
Fans interested in attending the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 can still purchase tickets for the tournament via www.fifa.com/tickets, as well as via ticket booths located at stadia for remaining matches still available to the general public.