FRANKFURT (AFP) – Japan’s all-action style has caught the eye at the women’s World Cup and as they prepare for Sunday’s final against the USA, they have draw comparisons with European giants Barcelona.
Despite their flower-inspired nickname Nadeshiko, the Japanese are the giant-killers at Germany 2011 having shocked the hosts 1-0 in the quarter-finals and then dominated Sweden 3-1 in the semi-final.
Their previous best display at a World Cup was the quarter-finals at the 1995 tournament and Japan will make history if they beat two-time winners the Stars and Stripes on Sunday.
Under veteran captain Homare Sawa, Japan’s all-action style, controlled passing, patient build-up and aggression in front of goal have carried them to the Frankfurt final, despite losing 2-0 to England in the group stages.
Comparisons to Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona are justified, said former US coach April Heinrichs, a member of FIFA’s technical study group, after the Japanese restricted Sweden to just four shots on goal in the semi-final.
“Every player is the master of the ball and good with both feet,” said Heinrichs.
“Every player is hard to read and is moving off the ball, ready to receive it and is very confident.
“They are playing for each other, it is the most inspiring Japanese team I have ever seen.”
While Asian champions Japan have been dark-horses at this tournament, Heinrichs said they are finally being rewarded for their style of play.
“Their style isn’t three or four years old, this has been in place for 20 years, when I played against them at the 1991 World Cup,” she said.
“They are just getting rewarded for it now, they have evolved and are setting the standard.
“Teams like France and Japan are raising the bar, we have to credit these possession-orientated sides and their competitiveness makes every team improve.”
The Japanese squad have consistently played down comparisons to Barcelona from the media here.
“I can’t really compare our style to other teams,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.
“The team was forged at the Beijing Olympic Games, we have been playing together for three years since then and they have matured together.
“Even before that, they have played since they were little and they are very good from a technical point of view.
“In Beijing, we finished fourth and at the time, that was our intention.
“This time we said, lets go for the final.
“The Japanese players are not tall, so our focus is on good passing and everyone has to be involved, if we don’t do that we can’t perform at international level, we have to fine tune our performance as we go along.”
Heinrichs added the development of the Japan team has been clear to see.
“Five years ago we would have said they were a good team, but didn’t have enough aggression in front of goal, now they do,” she said.
“How many goals have they scored in the air, yet they aren’t the tallest?
“Nobody would have described them as a good defensive team a few years ago, but everyone knows their job now.”