VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Four years ago the Japan women’s soccer team, inspired by a nation recovering from a devastating earthquake and tsunami, lifted their reeling country’s spirits by winning the World Cup.
Japan will defend that crown on Sunday in Vancouver against the United States and this time coach Norio Sasaki said his team needs no such motivation as they bid to join Germany as the only country to claim back-to-back titles.
“In 2011 Japan suffered a great earthquake and tsunami and the people in Japan really got interested in the Women’s World Cup,” Sasaki told reporters before this team went out for the their final practise session at BC Place.
“The players responded to that and played every game hard and won and inspired the people in Japan.
“In 2011 I did a lot of things to keep the motivation high, I made videos of the earthquake devastation and they watched that.
“In this tournament I did not do that, I didn’t make any videos because they already have that experience and each player has a good mindset.
“This team has matured and the experiences they have had give inspiration to them.
“Compared to 2011 mentally they are stronger as a team.”
The ‘Nadeshiko’ will, however, draw inspiration from the fact they were beaten 2-1 by the U.S. in the final at the London 2012 Olympics, which sealed the third successive gold medal for the Americans.
The Asian champions will also be playing for team mate Kozue Ando who broke her ankle in the opening match in Canada and was ruled out of the tournament.
A white teddy bear wearing Ando’s number seven jersey has occupied a spot on the Japan bench but on Sunday the midfielder will be on the sidelines to cheer on her team mates.
“I think we complete our team only when she is with us so she makes a big difference,” captain Aya Miyama said.
“She is coming back to Vancouver and we are going to win the World Cup together with her.
“It is very important to have her (here).”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury