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Football | FIFA Women’s World Cup

Aya Miyama © Gallo Images

'Nadeshiko' look to rekindle Japan's love



Japan captain Aya Miyama said that the 'Nadeshiko' were looking to rekindle the nation's love on the eve of their Women's World Cup title defence against the United States in Vancouver.

In 2011 Japan became the first Asian team to win a world title overcoming the United States in a triumph that embodied the spirit of a nation struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

But four years on Miyama admitted it was sometimes hard to maintain interest in women's football in Asia.

"When we won the World Cup, people began to take notice of soccer in Asia but just before the World Cup this time the popularity had began to decline in Japan as well as in Asia," said Miyama.

"We hope that by winning the World Cup again we can make soccer a part of the culture of Japan and not just a fad."

Coach Norio Sasaki said his team no longer needed such powerful motivators to fire their title ambitions.

"In 2011 Japan suffered a terrible earthquake and tsunami and people really got interested in the World Cup," he told a press conference at Vancouver's BC Place Stadium.

"The players responded to that and gave everything they had in every game and inspired all Japan.

"I really did a lot of things to keep the motivation high. I created videos of the earthquake devastation and the players watched that, in this tournament I didn't do that."

Sasaki said that a team spirit forged over the past few years and losing the 2012 Olympics title to the United States were now powering his side.

It will be the third rematch between the two rivals in a major tournament in recent years.

"I didn't do anything special here to keep the motivation," he said of Japan who have won all six of their games so far in Canada.

"Compared to 2011 mentally they are stronger as a team. The motivation is also high because we're playing the United States again.

"It's kind of fate that we always play in the final against the US who helped up so much to develop our game in the past."

He added: "Tomorrow (Sunday) there will be probably be more supporters cheering on the USA, but I think the Nadeshiko can convert that to their own power."

RETURNING ANDO

Sasaki's players have been using the injury of teammate Kozue Ando, who broke her ankle in the opening game and returned to Japan for surgery, as a source of inspiration.

Ando will return to Vancouver for Sunday's final.

"Our team is only complete when she is with us and she's coming back to Vancouver and we are going to win the World Cup together with her," said Miyama.

US star Abby Wambach has said that the date of their World Cup loss to Japan – July 17, 2011 – was etched in her memory, warning: "defeat is not an option".

But Miyama said that date and August 9, 2012 were on her mind.

"I've never forgotten the day we won (the World Cup) and I've never forgotten the day we lost the Olympic final. I too just have winning in my mind," said the 30-year-old.

"I wanted the gold medal in the Olympics but we were not able to do that, the bitter feeling I had back then has stayed with me."

US coach Jill Ellis described Japan's 2011 triumph as "a watershed moment" in the sport.

"It made people realise it doesn't matter how big or strong you are that technique is a massive part of the game."

Ellis added: "I have tremendous respect for Japan and what they accomplish today, not just what they accomplished in the past."



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