EDMONTON: Champions Japan face a real threat from England as the Asian giants look to keep their Women’s World Cup title defence on track in Wednesday’s semi-final in Edmonton.
Japan’s ‘Nadeshiko’ are the only unbeaten team left since they opened their campaign with a 1-0 win over Switzerland three weeks ago in the sunshine of Vancouver’s west coast.
England by contrast started their quest for a maiden title with a 1-0 loss to France in windy and wet conditions on the east in Moncton.
But England’s ‘Lionesses’ have been gaining momentum, beating Mexico, Colombia, 1995 champions Norway and hosts Canada all by 2-1 scorelines, to reach their first semi-finals.
Japan defeated Australia 1-0 in the quarter-finals and have won all their games by a one-goal margin with the impressive depth of their team demonstrated by the fact that all their seven goals have different scorers. The ‘Nadeshiko’ defence is also solid — they have conceded just two goals in five matches.
But England’s front-line have put in eight goals, with Lucy Bronze and Karen Carney both scoring twice.
England coach Mark Sampson believes his sixth-ranked side can take heart from being unbeaten against the Japanese and were the only team to beat Japan at the 2011 World Cup, winning 2-0 before the Asian side went on to claim the title. “I’m not sure there are underdogs anymore,” said Sampson. “They’ve been one of the most exciting teams to watch, they haven’t scored many goals but they haven’t conceded many, we’re playing the current world champions.”
However, Japan coach Norio Sasaki brushed aside talk of past results. “We will not think of negative past results, [instead we will] just focus on those in front of us,” he said.
Both sides have high expectations at home with England’s historic run to the semi-finals attracting millions of viewers.
The team have been overwhelmed with messages on social media — from former England men’s captain David Beckham to current skipper Wayne Rooney.
“It feels like the nation has fallen in love with the Lionesses,” said FA director of women’s football Kelly Simmons. “It’s a tipping point as many millions have got behind them.”
The Japan coach also said expectations of delivering back-to-back titles were high at home. “We would like to fight very hard thinking of the people who support us back in Japan,” he said. “The emotion that we created in 2011, we certainly would like to be able to recreate that for the Japanese.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2015.
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