Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda said it was vital for the Nadeshiko to win their opening match against Zambia in Hamilton on Saturday if they are to make their mark at the Women’s World Cup.
Champion at the 2011 World Cup and runner-up four years later, Japan exited in the round of 16 at the last edition of the showpiece of women’s football.
“We are ready for our match tomorrow. Our first match of the World Cup is very important. So we have to be very careful, but dynamic, and we’re going to get those points,” Ikeda told reporters at Waikato Stadium on Friday.
“This is a tournament so we have to win one game after the other. That’s important. We want to get off on the right foot so we have to win. It’s the first game so we have to, we just have to win it tomorrow.”
Debutants Zambia may be ranked 77th in the world to Japan’s 11th but it proved its quality by beating twice world champions Germany in a friendly earlier this month.
Ikeda said the Africans were very direct on the counter attack when they gained possession and Japan’s players would have to be quick to react when they lost the ball.
Risa Shimizu, who started all of her country’s matches in France four years ago, agreed with her coach about the importance of getting a winning start.
After the disappointment of Japan being knocked out of its home Olympics in the quarter-finals in 2021, the hard-working right back moved to England with West Ham United.
“I’ve haven’t done well at international tournaments and when the Olympics ended, I thought I had to change something,” she said.
“I’ve done everything I could personally to grow. So I want to win the match and do well at this World Cup.”
Japan also plays Costa Rica and Spain in Group C and fans back home will now be able to see those matches on free-to-air TV after FIFA struck a last-minute deal with broadcaster NHK.
“Nadeshiko soccer will be shown to more Japanese people and that helps our players as well,” Ikeda said. “And our fight will encourage little girls who want to get into soccer.”
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