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JFA Website Special

    Following impressive performances at the London Olympics and the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup, Japan are taking part in their third major women's competition of 2012 – the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup – which kicked off on September 23 in Azerbaijan.
   The Under-17s are under the supervision of Yoshida Hiroshi, who guided Japan to a bronze medal at this year's Under-20 Women's World Cup in Japan. So, what is the Japan coach expecting from his Under-17 players in the biannual tournament? Yoshida expressed his thoughts shortly before departing for Baku.

Q: This is your third Under-17 Women’s World Cup; have you noticed any fundamental differences between your teams in the last four years?
    Defensive work, including goalkeeping, has improved in the last four years. That can be put down to the introduction of our Goalkeeper Project and the increase in the number of players at lower ages in primary school. When I look at overall team ability, the current team is higher than the previous two. We don’t have anyone like Iwabuchi Mana or Kyokawa Mai, who we had on our previous teams, but that means everybody has the potential to make a breakthrough, which is good.

Q: What do you expect from your players in the tournament?
   I think it is important that the players know their strong points and show them at the World Championship. I hope many of our players will perform like that during this competition. This is their first World Cup and they can display their own game more when they play with good concentration and a relaxed feeling. It’s my job to help them show the good parts of their game.

Q: You guided the previous Japan team to the silver medal in the 2010 tournament; what is your target this time?
   We’d like to play six games in the tournament; that is the minimum task for us. If you play six games, you can meet higher-standard teams from around the world later in the tournament and through that you will discover your current level in world terms. Our players and I want to see if we can survive against other teams, based on what we have been working on up to now. I hope we can have as many good games as possible. If we can win the tournament as a result, that would also be good. On top of that, I hope we can show that women’s football can be enjoyable with its attractive elements – not only with physical strength or power.
   For our girls, what they experience at the World Championship will lead them to become better players. Of course, they must play for the team, but I want them to show what they can do and through that help their team to win in the end.

Q: Playing in a World Cup can trigger changes in the players
   Yes. But this can be a big trigger for changes in their playing career. What you can expect from playing in an official competition is different from friendly matches. Gaining experience of that kind helps them play in the following games. Every player has a moment when they can make a change. But the timing of that can be different for each player.

Q: I suppose seeing the changes in your players is one of the appealing parts of your job?
    Yes, for sure. That’s what I look for. I always think how I can give our players a hint or an opportunity to make them change and how our players can grow up. I admit that we have to consider how we’re going to get a result, but giving them an opportunity to change is also a big part of what I do.

Q: What did you find out at the recent FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup?
    Germany and the United States went through to the final and both of them are physically strong. Our game with Germany in the semifinals made me realize that we are losing out in terms of physique when it comes to the top teams in the world. So you need more precision in your game to be successful in a tournament like that. I hope our players also realize this point and work on their game.
     I also found that some of our players, like Shibata Hanae and Nishikawa Asuka, showed characteristics I hadn’t seen when playing for their clubs in the Nadeshiko League or in their college teams, so that was a nice discovery for me.
    Also, we really appreciated the spectators, who had very warm feelings towards us even after we lost to Germany. I think they understood the hard work our players put in to the games, something that came from the influence of the Nadeshiko Japan’s hard-working performances. I want to keep this attitude in our players.

Q: Have you seen any players who could be the ‘new’ Sawa Homare or Miyama Aya?
    Well, that may take time. I assume Sawa and Miyama have a very strong affection for football and they have kept that while working on their game every day throughout their career. That has enabled them develop their skills and reach a point, as in the case of Miyama, where she now has great skill in manipulating the ball. You cannot expect to have real high quality in your game if you don’t keep working at it even after you reached a certain level. Then you can fill in the small gaps and details in order to reach the top. That is the difference between a real top player and those who are not. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a player like Sawa or Miyama. However, they need to keep on working on the small details.

Q:What changes or improvements have you seen in Japanese women’s football since you started coaching girls in 2003?
     There didn’t used to be so many women players, but now there are more places for them to play compared to before. The number of female players is gradually increasing, but there is still a shortfall when compared to the United States. If we have more players in the lower ages at primary schools and at junior high schools, I think we have a chance to take the leadership in women’s football.

Text by Kinohara Kumi, sports journalist