Nadeshiko looking for first-ever medal

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

As a thunderstorm raged in grey skies over South London on Sunday, Japan midfielder Homare Sawa was confident lightning would not strike twice when the women’s world champions take on France with a first-ever medal at stake at the London Games.

Japan, fourth at the Beijing Games four years ago, advanced to Monday’s semifinal showdown at Wembley with a gritty 2-0 win over Brazil and now faces a stern test against a France side that took it apart in a 2-0 win in an Olympic warmup in Paris last month.

“This is a massive game with a medal riding on it and we are well prepared,” Sawa, playing in her fourth and probably last Olympics, said. “All the players have watched video footage of the France game. We have been talking about it since the Brazil match and we can’t see ourselves losing this one.

“We lost in the semifinals last time in Beijing and we were the only team from the last four not to go home with a medal. There are players still here that were part of that squad and we’re all determined to erase that disappointment and fight to win just like we did against Brazil.”

The FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year added: “We were really disappointed about coming here (to the Olympics) on the back of a beating by France and are all fired up for revenge.”

Saki Kumagai, who alongside Azusa Iwashimizu has been outstanding at the heart of a defense that has conceded just one goal in four matches en route to the last four, expects another tough test against the Frenchwomen, who eliminated Sweden with a come-from-behind 2-1 win in the quarterfinals.

“There are a lot of players up front that are physical and quick, they are also useful on the ball in midfield and overall France are a balanced team,” said Kumagai.

“If we can keep a clean sheet then we will definitely win this game. Our strikers are scoring goals and I have every belief that they can continue to do that.”

“We have only conceded one goal and obviously that has boosted confidence,” added Kumagai. “But there have been some pretty tight situations where we nearly conceded after giving our opponents chances. We must dig in really hard and defend tightly tomorrow.”

Canada, the only team to score against Japan so far in this tournament, faces reigning champion the United States in the other semifinal.