EDMONTON, Alberta — Following Japan’s 1-0 win over Australia on Saturday, the press attempted to get Norio Sasaki to comment on his two potential semifinal opponents. But the head coach of the reigning world champions held his cards close as usual.
“To play the semifinal in a packed stadium is my personal wish,” Sasaki said through translation. “I am sure my voice will be heard, though.”
If that was a slight lean toward a preference to play Canada, that possibility fizzled soon after when England put the hosts out, 2-1 a few hours after Japan downed Australia.
Sasaki, however, did go so far as to say he believed having the quarterfinal and semifinal both in the same city would work in favor of his side, and he also downplayed the effect of having to recover in time after playing in stifling heat on Saturday.
“Next game we can wait for the opponent in Edmonton,” he said. “The opponent will be coming from Vancouver. I strongly feel that that will be an advantage for us.”
On the conditions, Sasaki added: “I don’t swell on the heat. Regardless of which team comes we will want to be ready.”
Japan were always in control of Saturday’s match against Australia but even with the bulk of possession and chances it took the Nadeshiko until the 87th minute, when Mana Iwabuchi got on the end of a scramble following a corner kick which Australia could never quite get out of danger. The match was deep enough that the specter of extra time loomed, but it did not trouble the coach.
“We had analyzed the Australian team and we set our goals as to what we needed to do and I think that was well done,” he said. “They didn’t go off (the game plan). I was thinking that even if we didn’t have a goal in 90 minutes we would certainly do that by 120 minutes. The game plan was very well executed.”
The win was Japan’s fifth goal of the World Cup but oddly their first against an opponent not making its World Cup debut. They beat Switzerland, Cameroon, and Ecuador in Group C and then the Netherlands in the round of 16. All of the wins were by a single goal and Japan struggled at times. But their play has picked up with the stakes as the World Cup has progressed.
“I think the result of this match,” Sasaki said of the quarterfinal, “has given confidence to the Japanese players and what we did today will serve as a basis for our future successes.”
And now that Japan are within reach of a return to the final and perhaps a repeat, it can be easy to forget that Japan were underdogs four years ago and that their win helped lift a country that had been through a recent earthquake and nuclear disaster.
“The emotion that we created in 2011 for the Japanese people we certainly would like to be able to repeat that,” Sasaki said.
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This article is part of our “Forwards” series this month, which is exclusively for subscribers...