Preview: Takakura calls for Nadeshiko spirit in battle of continents
Rennes: A majority of Japan’s squad are appearing in their first FIFA Women’s World Cup, but the Nadeshiko spirit which saw the nation become Asia’s first world champions remains according to Asako Takakura, who urged her side to dig deep against the Netherlands on Tuesday.
Takakura’s side come into the win-or-go-home Round of 16 clash following an arduous group stage, which included an unexpected goalless draw against Argentina, and a 2-0 defeat to England in Nice on Wednesday.
By contrast, the Netherlands eased through the opening round with three successive wins and a star attacking trio of Vivianne Miedema, Lieke Martens and Shanice van de Sanden living up to their billing with a series of blistering performances.
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As a result, the Dutch side are considered favourites for the meeting in Rennes, with Japan head coach Takakura pointedly declaring that her side would lose their next match unless they improved after the England defeat.
Now that the match has arrived, the six-time AFC Women’s Coach of the Year called on her side to defy their youth, deliver on their promise and summon the spirit of successful Japanese sides of the past.
“This is the knockout stage, so not losing is something important,” she said, “We must win. Just having a good potential is not enough. We are going to have to fulfil our full potential."
“Back in 2011 and 2015, we won the tournament and then we were the runners-up, and we are all aware that the expectation from the supporters is huge, but at the same time, many of the team members are now young and haven’t experienced the tournament.
“But what doesn’t change is the Nadeshiko Japan spirit, or the blood in us, and we have prepared as much as we could, and as I have been repeating, we’re going to give everything that we’ve got.
“That is going to be the prerequisite, and hopefully we are going to see a positive result at the end of the tunnel.”
Tuesday’s match pits the continental champions of Asia and Europe against each other, and while the action at Roazhon Park will not yet decide the champions of the world, it remains the sort of heavyweight bout for which the World Cup stage exists.
Given their heavy 6-2 defeat when the sides last met at the 2018 Algarve Cup, Takakura’s side could be forgiven for carrying mental scars into their rematch with the Oranje, but despite that experience, the Japanese boss says she will instruct her players to play the match on the front foot.
“Of course, that’s our intention,” she declared. “Of course, there will be lots of anticipation and times where we have to change our moves and come out with new actions, but we’re going to be very proactive and come forward, and we’re going to give everything that we’ve got.
“When you mention (the match at) Algarve Cup, we considered that at the beginning of the match and it’s very daunting. Of course, you don’t want to be conceding goals, but we’re going to try and maintain a good level of defence and – although we will be careful – we’d like to really go forward."
“The Dutch team’s goalkeeper, defence line, midfield and attack have a lot quality individually and as a whole squad. Having said that, we have developed our squad with very skilful and high-level players.
“As one of the Asian teams, and also a representative of Japan, we’re going to give everything that we’ve got.”
While the Netherlands have bragging rights over the Nadeshiko from as recently as last February, it was Japan who ended the Dutch run at the same stage of the 2015 World Cup in Canada, with Saori Ariyoshi and Mizuho Sakaguchi getting on the scoresheet in a 2-1 win.
Danielle van de Donk was part of the Netherlands line-up that day, and she remains full of respect for Japan’s technical quality.
“I think they play like Barcelona,” she said with a smile. “I think they have very good positional play.
“I just think we have to keep calm. We have to try not to get them on the ball as much, try to keep the ball ourselves and just be calm and patient, and it will come for us.”
Dutch head coach Sarina Wiegman has transformed her side’s fortunes since her full-time appointment in 2017, winning the European Championship and overseeing wins over top 10 sides Australia and Canada within the last month.
Form clearly favours the Netherlands, but Wiegman says there is little difference between them and their Japanese opponents in terms of quality
“We are at about the same level,” said the 104-cap former international. "We know the opponent.”
“Four years ago, they played the final. They’re very dynamic, very well skilled and very flexible, so we have to focus on our opponent, but we have our skills as well, so they’ll also have to be cautious.
“Let’s see what happens tomorrow, but it is a challenge to play them.”
Netherlands v Japan
FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Round of 16
Roazhon Park, Rennes
Kick-off: 21.00 (local time)
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFP
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