OSAKA – When Yuki Ogimi said on Saturday that some of the Japan players didn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation the Nadeshiko are in, she meant to fire up her teammates as a form of tough love.
Ogimi’s message, though, may not be getting through ahead of Monday’s Olympic final qualifier against Vietnam, a game Japan must win to have any chance of playing in this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“It’s not really any one individual’s fault. We all need to be on top of things,” Nadeshiko’s Bayern Munich striker Mana Iwabuchi said after training on Sunday.
“Me personally — and I don’t mean this to be a criticism of (Ogimi) — but I’m not sure if it was the right time or place to be saying what she said. She certainly hasn’t said any of that to our faces and I think if you have something important to say, there’s a way of saying it.
“If you read the stories that have come out since, it doesn’t look good. We’re in a situation where we all have to be on the same page and we don’t have the time.”
The atmosphere has been anything but upbeat with Japan, which has just one night to come up with the right chemistry for the match against Vietnam, the last-place side in the six-team group with three defeats in as many games.
The ex-world champions and reigning Asian champions must hammer Vietnam and beat North Korea on Wednesday, and hope that they can finish ahead of second-place China on goal difference.
Japan’s fate, however, could be decided even before it kicks off against Vietnam. If China avoids defeat to South Korea on Monday afternoon, Norio Sasaki’s side will not be going to Rio.
The Nadeshiko have had a difficult time getting shots off throughout this qualifying competition, never mind scoring.
It’s been an extremely frustrating campaign especially for forwards like Iwabuchi and Ogimi, who simply haven’t had enough supply; in its first three games, Japan has three goals combined while group leader Australia has 14.
Since taking over in December 2007, Sasaki has done a marvelous job of guiding the Nadeshiko to two Women’s World Cup finals and one Olympic final, topping it off with Japan’s first continental crown.
He will need to wave one more magic wand, by getting his troops to put aside any philosophical or tactical differences for the greater good and then maybe, a miraculous path to Rio might open up for Japan.
“We haven’t been shooting, let alone scoring, but we should have more opportunities against Vietnam,” said Sasaki, who will reportedly rejoin his old J. League club Omiya Ardija in some capacity if Japan is eliminated here.
“Vietnam defended very well against North Korea. They know how to counterattack once they win the ball. For starters, we need to focus on scoring the first goal to take the pressure off us — off myself more than anyone.
“The night of the game, I think we were all a little shocked by the fact that our chances of qualifying had dimmed. But everyone involved with this team is doing everything they can to try to overcome the odds.
“Maybe I overprepared us the first three games. Maybe I need to be a little looser than the way I usually am.”