Shimizu bears no scars from torrid debut
Rennes: A senior international debut is a career highlight for any footballer lucky enough to earn one, but the circumstances of Japan right-back Risa Shimizu’s first appearance for her national team in February 2018 made it one she is unlikely to ever forget.
Having sat on the bench against Switzerland four months prior, Shimizu got her chance as part of an experimental squad at the 2018 Algarve Cup in Portugal, but by the time she entered the fray as a half-time substitute in their opening match against the Netherlands, her side were already 5-1 down.
It was hardly her fault - in fact, she provided the assist for a late Mana Iwabuchi consolation goal - but Shimizu’s international debut came in a humbling 6-2 defeat; Japan’s worst since 1999.
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Now, 16 months later, both sides have won their respective continental championships, Shimizu is one of the first names on the Japanese team-sheet, and the Nadeshiko and the Oranje are set to meet again on Tuesday, in the rarefied air of the FIFA Women’s World France 2019 Round of 16.
The NTV Beleza talent, who turned 23 the day after Japan’s 2-1 win over Scotland, said Japan’s off day in Portugal would not haunt her side.
“Yes, my first match in the senior national team was against the Dutch team,” she recalled. “But I didn’t have a negative impression of the (Japan national) team after that.”
“We have made great improvement since then and I certainly hope everyone can work hard and win (the last 16 tie).”
Lieke Martens scored twice against Japan last time out, following on from being crowned both FIFA and UEFA’s Women’s Player of the Year in 2017 and now forms part of a deadly attacking trio also compromising Vivianne Miedema and Shanice van de Sanden.
Unless one of the coaches springs a tactical surprise, Shimizu will be responsible for keeping the Barcelona star under control on Tuesday, and her assessment is simple: the Dutch side is full of weapons.
“Lieke Marten’s is an excellent player,” she stated plainly. “Everyone in the Netherlands team is very good. It will be very important not to give up a goal."
But while the Netherlands can boast the individual stars, and certainly the more recognised players in Europe, Japan bring a sense of tactical mystery to the encounter.
While Dutch boss Sarina Wiegman prefers to stick to a tried and tested best 11, Japan head coach Asako Takakura is known for juggling her personnel, and Shimizu believes her side’s ability to adapt tactical changes, even within the match itself, can give them a hidden advantage.
“It’s very hard to say before the match kicks off, but one of our strengths is that we are quite flexible,” she said.
“As in, when we see how the match is going to go or develop, we can change the way we play. That makes me quite confident, in terms of this flexibility that we can put out there.”
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFP
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