Posts Tagged ‘INAC Kobe

13
Dec
11

Panda-ing to the masses

Women’s football in Japan is currently doing very well for itself. Success brings fresh challenges though, and it is important that the game tackles them now if it wants to maintain its popularity …

The first time I watched a women’s football match in Japan – ok, probably the first time I ever watched a women’s football match – was in July 2009, when I saw Urawa Ladies take on Beleza at Komaba.

While I was surprised by the level on the pitch and the number of spectators there (nearly 2,000), it was still obviously far-removed from the men’s game.

The amount of interest didn’t seem much higher when I attended a Nadeshiko training session in Tokyo just before the World Cup, with only a handful of journalists present.

Of course, those experiences contrast greatly to the scenes that have been the norm since Homare Sawa et al returned from Germany as World Champions.

The increase in popularity is positive in many respects, and if that can be maintained then the women’s game could go from strength-to-strength. That is not going to be easy though, and I worry that the majority of people will quickly lose interest.

A fellow journalist provided the best analogy of the current situation when describing Sawa as being “like a panda” – everybody wants to take a picture but once they’ve got it their appetite has been sated and they move on to (insert ice-skater/volleyball player/swimmer here).

For me, the recent tour in Japan by Arsenal Ladies was interesting, as it served as a good marker of a) how women’s football in Japan is being viewed from the outside – away from the hype – and b) how many people here still cared.

In the first instance, things were hugely encouraging, with the Arsenal players genuinely excited to be playing against some of the best players in the world and keen to benefit from the experience.

“The most pleasing thing about watching the Japanese team play [at the World Cup],” captain Jayne Ludlow told me the day before their game against INAC Kobe, “was the freedom and the enjoyment they seemed to have playing the games. “Even in high-pressured situations they were smiling – the penalties was a typical example, they didn’t look like they were under pressure at all and they performed brilliantly. So maybe there’s something to learn from that.”

After the game, too, Jennifer Beattie, who scored the equaliser in the 1-1 draw, also spoke about picking things up from the Japanese players.

“The Japanese style of [women’s] football is one of the best in the world,” she said. “Their technique, their first touch, their range of passing is just unbelievable. And that’s probably something that English football and every other style can learn from.”

The game itself was of a high-standard, and in Nahomi Kawasumi, Shinobu Ono, Megumi Takase and Ji So-yun INAC have some hugely exciting attacking talent.

With regards to b), Over 11,000 people were at Kokuritsu for the match, which suggests that there are still plenty of people there for the game and not just the snapshot.

This is exactly how Sawa herself explained things when I spoke to her ahead of the game. “Initially, of course, it can’t be helped; they want to see famous players,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s just that, I think people are genuinely starting to take an interest in the football.”

In England, too, the media is slowly getting behind the game, but Ludlow still thinks there is room for improvement.

“ESPN do show some of the games, but it can always be bigger and better,” she said. “The more profile we get, obviously with funding, [the better], and hopefully in five or 10 years we can go professional.

INAC’s Yukari Kinga thinks the focus should be at the other end of the spectrum as well.

“At the root, at the bottom,” she said after the game with Arsenal. “The youth, in junior high school, middle school. I hope that it can grow more.

“In America, lots of young girls play football. If that could happen in Japan it would naturally make women’s football stronger, it would go in the right direction. So I feel we need to grow more.”

Things certainly look to be on the up, but the key to longevity is not easy to find. Efforts, such as this Arsenal tour, should be made to secure it now though, or people could soon be moving on to the next exhibit.

03
Dec
11

Arsenal Ladies get inside look at Japan

The surge in popularity in women’s football was phenomenal in the wake of Nadeshiko Japan’s World Cup triumph in July.

Arsenal Ladies’ trip to the country has ensured that the game remains in the spotlight, and everybody’s thoughts are now on the next steps.

30
Jun
11

Nadeshiko aiming for the top at the World Cup

The Japanese women’s football team – Nadeshiko Japan – got their World Cup campaign up-and-running on Monday with a win over New Zealand. Before the side left for Germany I spoke with captain Homare Sawa about her aims and expectations for the tournament.

People inside and outside of the country have been getting very excited about Japanese football recently, with the nation finally seeming to make an impact on the global game.

While Nagatomo and co. become the poster-boys of this development and are, quite rightly, being lauded for their success though, I wonder how many people can name the Japanese player who has already played over 160 times for the country and appeared at five World Cups?

Well, that is exactly what Homare Sawa achieved on Monday, as the Nadeshiko beat New Zealand 2-1 in their first group game of the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Sawa, now 32, made her first appearance at a World Cup finals back in Sweden in 1995 at the age of just 16, and having spent half of her life as an international footballer she believes that this year’s competition will be her last.

I spoke to the Nadeshiko captain last month as the side trained in Akabane, where she was very open and friendly and spoke of her desire to make this World Cup her most successful.

“This time my situation is different from other World Cups, the first time I was only 16 years old, the youngest player,” she said. “But now I have grown in experience so this time should be the best World Cup for me. I think this will be my last time.”

The thought of the Nadeshiko at a World Cup without Sawa seems a little strange (it has only happened once, after all), but the women’s game, like the men’s, is going from strength to strength and the next star of the side will be taking to the field alongside Sawa in Germany this year.

Mana Iwabuchi, who is juggling her University studies at Komazawa Joshi Daigaku with her blossoming football career at NTV Beleza, is being broken into the team gently, but while great care is being taken with her development there is no mistaking the undoubted talent that she possesses.

I asked Sawa if, having made her World Cup debut at a similarly young age, she had any advice for the 18-year-old Iwabuchi, and she looked a little surprised at the suggestion and laughed.

“Not at all; of course not! Nothing specific but I would like her to enjoy this World Cup and to enjoy the experience and everything that goes with it.”

When I press a little more she insists that the young striker does not need any special tips, having already appeared in several international tournaments at youth level.

“This time is senior so will be different but she already has lots of experience playing in world competition. Full national team and the younger ones are different, of course physically, height and weight and physical strength, but also the mental side, the intelligence of the players.”

Iwabuchi showed very few signs of being troubled by these aspects at last year’s East Asian Football Federation Championships, grabbing two goals against Chinese Taipei, and I ask Sawa what she thought of the youngster’s instant adaptation to the full national team.

She breaks into a smile and says, “In my first game I scored four goals though, against the Phillipines! Then I was 15…”

While this is, of course, spoken in jest, such friendly banter can serve just as well as – if not better than – serious advice to motivate young players, and having Iwabuchi on top form going into the tournament, along with fellow strikers Shinobu Ono – who was top scorer when the Nadeshiko won the Asian Games gold last year – and Yuki Nagasato, will be vital if the side are to achieve Sawa’s goal of exiting the World Cup with a medal.

Having failed to get through the group stages in China four years ago this will be no mean feat, but with the tournament set to be Sawa’s last World Cup she intends to give everything for the cause, and I genuinely hope she succeeds in her aim.

“It will be very, very difficult to get a medal in the world tournament,” she said, before concluding typically, “but we will try. I think nothing is impossible so we will try.”

     *          *          *          *          *          *          *           *          *          *          *          *          *    

Further comments from Sawa san can be found here, in a preview I wrote for the-AFC.com.




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