AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — After an early exit from the Olympics two years ago on home soil, the Japanese have rebuilt, hired a new coach and focused on youth.
The result? Japan scored in droves Women’s World Cup.
Led by coach Futoshi Ikeda, Nadeshiko scored 15 goals, leading no team in the competition. Prodigious young midfielder Hinata Miyazawa scored five goals, equaling the record set by Japanese legend Homere Sawa in 2011.
But it was not enough to stop Sweden, who knocked Japan out of the competition Won 2-1 In Friday night’s quarterfinal game. Sweden’s players celebrated as midfielder Jun Endo sat on the pitch for a long time and cried after the final whistle.
“We knew we were going to play a very talented and technical team,” said Sweden’s Kosovare Aslani. “We don’t want them to spend too much time on the ball, because that’s when they’re at their best.”
Amanda Ilstedt scored a first-half goal and Philippa Angel converted a second-half penalty to give Sweden a 2-0 lead. Japan couldn’t break it until Honoka Hayashi scored in the 86th minute.
“A lot of time was spent on defense and it was hard to find our own momentum, and we just couldn’t play a good offense,” forward Mina Tanaka said.
Ikeda said the team could be proud of their achievements. After sweeping the group stage without scoring, the Japanese then beat Norway 3-1 in the Round of 16.
Above all, Team Japan was young, with an average age of just 24.9 years.
“Ever since I became the coach, I knew I was going to take them to the World Cup and I, along with the players, worked hard to get to this point,” he said. “The players have become a unit, working in the same direction. We have created an environment where every player can grow,” he said.
In 2011, the Japanese defeated Sweden 3-1 in the semi-finals and won the World Cup trophy after a penalty shootout with the USA. It was an emotional success due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan earlier that year.
Japan also reached the World Cup finals in 2015, but fell 5–2 to the United States.
Ahead of the 2019 World Cup, Japan appointed Asako Takakura, the first female coach to manage the national team, but Nadeshiko fell to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
Takakura was replaced by Ikeda, who coached Japan to the 2018 Under-20 Women’s World Cup title, after a 3-1 loss to Sweden at the Tokyo Games. He helped develop many players on the team, including Miyazawa.
Endo plays in the United States for Angel City of the National Women’s Soccer League. Nadeshiko said she will now qualify for the Paris Olympics next summer.
“We still need to improve quality,” he said.
Ikeda said he hoped the young players would learn from failure.
“They are experiencing the rigors of the World Games. They can play in these tournaments. They should use this as experience for the Olympics and other forwards,” Ikeda said. “We want these young players to add strength to the Nadeshiko team.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup