Japanese women’s football team has won the World Cup in Germany. A very few people in Japan, and elsewhere, had expected the team to win the competition, certainly not overcoming the likes of Germany, Sweden and the US en route. There is always hope, but it was not a realistic expectation. Sporting achievements are always a boost to the national morale, especially when they are not expected, and Japan was sorely in need of one, after the earthquake in March and the subsequent political squabble. There is no doubt that this news will lift the mood of the nation.
Football has been becoming more popular in Japan over the past decade or so, and women’s football enjoys a pretty high profile and recognition, as the team has been consistently ranked well. What struck me watching the game on the television was that both women’s and men’s national teams are playing a similar type of football, characterized by organization and speed, based on passes and movement. An average Japanese player, whether in female or male competition, would be no match physically one-to-one against most other nations, so playing a physical game based on tempo or hoofing the ball towards the front is not an option. There is something approaching a Japanese style of football, that is no longer purely defensive or one-dimensional. In the Asian Cup, the men’s team managed to play a more offensive game to win the competition, and in this World Cup the women’s team demonstrated a good all-round ability.
In the final, Japan couldn’t play its usual game, and the US was generally the stronger team. However, a healthy dose of luck, and the ability to hold the last line of defence for most of the match showed the durability of Japan’s defensive game. The offensive game wasn’t particularly quick or incisive, but the team showed its ability to score a goal by taking a chance afforded by a mistake by the US defence, and from a corner kick. It might have been scruffy, but it also demonstrated what good teams do: score goals. Probably the clearest sign of Japan’s strength was the fact the team came back from being goal behind, twice. The style of play did not change, there was no panic, and that carried on with the lottery that is the penalty shoot-outs. The team’s victory is not only a morale-booster for Japan and a great achievement, but its members are and will be seen and remembered for a long time to come as role models in Japan for the way they played in the tournament.