Rennes: Falling to a last-minute Lieke Martens winner was a bitter end to Japan’s FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 campaign, but head coach Asako Takakura believes her young side have grown during the tournament.
Tuesday’s performance at Roazhon Park was Japan’s best in France, as a team dominated by players appearing on the world stage for the first time produced the sort of sparkling football for which the Nadeshiko have become universally admired.
But, for all their efforts, including a fabulous display from Mana Iwabuchi, it ended in tears for the Asian champions, as captain Saki Kumagai was penalised for blocking a rushed Vivianne Miedema shot with her arm, paving the way for Martens to deal the decisive blow from 12 yards in a 2-1 win.
Like her players, Takakura was crestfallen to be eliminated in such unfortunate fashion, particularly after her side produced a superb second 45 minutes, but even the darkest of clouds can have silver linings.
The six-time AFC Women’s Coach of the Year believes her squad - the second youngest squad in the tournament, and the youngest to reach the knockout stage – have learned valuable lessons from their campaign.
The road to Lyon continues...#FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/BvAQPGWkkE
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) June 25, 2019
“This is a FIFA World Cup and lots of wonderful teams are taking part,” she said. “In every match, the players grow.”
“Our youngest players: they discuss amongst themselves when watching videos of games. I can really feel our players are growing. We are a young squad, but once you’re on the pitch your age doesn’t matter.
“There are some areas for improvement. We have to think about football deeply, and we really have to seek solutions to make ourselves better. That process is needed for the players to grow further.”
Coming into the match following an underwhelming group stage which produced just one win in three matches, the Nadeshiko were expected to struggle against a Dutch side on a six-game winning streak, but after falling behind to an early Martens goal they stormed back into contention with Yui Hasegawa’s Iwabuchi-engineered equaliser just before half-time, before taking full control after the break.
The football displayed by Japan gave the world a glimpse of their exceptional potential under Takakura, but that it didn’t result in victory remains a tough pill to swallow.
“We really played really calmly,” she reflected.
“Towards the end of the match in the second we could create more scoring opportunities. It was really unfortunate that we couldn’t’ seize them. We lacked the ability to clinch the result.”
“We have to accept the result, we are defeated and very disappointed, and I feel very sorry for the players, and very frustrated.”
Dutch ace Miedema shared Takakura’s view, going a step further to say the Oranje’s bid for a maiden world title was fortunate to have survived their brush with Takakura’s youngsters.
"Japan is a world class team and you saw that today,” said the Arsenal star. “In the second half you can see they have loads of quality on the pitch and I think we were really lucky in the end.”
“We’ve been lucky today, now we need to rest up and prepare for Italy.”
“Takakura is open to the idea of some of her players joining Miedema in the major European leagues but rejected suggestions that it was a prerequisite to international success.
“This feeling, frustration, only the players know how it feels,” she said, having told her players in a post-match huddle not to forget their suffering in Rennes.
“Whether they are in domestic clubs or clubs overseas, they need to have a strong will to become world class players. That’s what I want from them.
“Some players will play overseas, but Japanese football is good enough on the world stage. Our players can improve their quality in Japan too.
“It’s up to the players. I’m all for their individual decisions of the players going forward, but it’s not the environment (that matters), it’s yourself.”
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFP