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Tokyo Olympics: Japan's Iwabuchi aims to go one better against Great Britain

Sapporo: Japan displayed incredible fighting spirit to salvage a 1-1 draw with Canada in their opening Tokyo 2020 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Group E tie on Wednesday and Mana Iwabuchi is confident the hosts will build on their performance in their remaining matches.

Japan fell behind to a sixth minute Christine Sinclair goal but Iwabuchi displayed her awesome talent when she collected a long-range pass, squeezed past two Canadian defenders before flicking the ball over substitute ‘keeper Kailen Sheridan to salvage a draw in the 84th minute.

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"I saw that Yui (Hasegawa) had some free space between me and her, and there was an opening for me to get in behind the centre-backs," Iwabuchi said.

"Although we went down a goal pretty early, it meant we had a lot of time to get ourselves back together and continue to fight."

Iwabuchi, who signed with Arsenal WFC in May, revealed that Japan kept their spirits up despite playing behind closed doors.

“I said, ‘Let’s keep doing what we have done’, but it wasn’t just myself. Saki (Kumagai) and everyone else were enthusiastic on the pitch. Although there were no spectators, I felt the encouragement from the bench. After I scored, everyone felt alive, including the coaching staff. The result is disappointing, but I want to deliver a victory to everyone in Japan in the next match (against Great Britain).

"I know this is a very difficult situation in which to hold the Olympics, but I was just really happy to be playing on the pitch today, so I'm very thankful to everyone that made this happen for us.”

Head coach Asako Takakura admitted going behind early affected their initial game plan, but was pleased with a better second half performance that salvaged Japan a point.

“I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has made an effort,” said Takakura. “We came into the first saying, ‘Let’s go get three points’, but we conceded early into the match and struggled to assemble our attacks well. In the second half, our rhythm was corrected, and Iwabuchi did spectacular work, while the other players fought persistently.

“The fact that we got one point is a plus, and we want to grow step by step, so we will prepare better for the next match and fight with all our might.”

Photos: AFP

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