Football: 'Nadeshiko' look to rekindle Japan's love as euphoria over 2011 wears off

Japan's women's football team players take part in a training session in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 4, 2015, on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final football match against the US.
Japan's women's football team players take part in a training session in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 4, 2015, on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final football match against the US. PHOTO: AFP

VANCOUVER (AFP) - Japan captain Aya Miyama said that the "Nadeshiko" were looking to rekindle the nation's love on the eve of their Women's World Cup football final against the United States in Vancouver.

In 2011, Japan became the first Asian team to win a world title, overcoming the United States in a triumph that embodied the spirit of a nation struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

But four years on, Miyama admitted it was sometimes hard to maintain interest in women's football in Asia.

"When we won the World Cup, people began to take notice of soccer in Asia but just before the World Cup this time the popularity had began to decline in Japan as well as in Asia," she said on Saturday.

"We hope that by winning the World Cup again we can make soccer a part of the culture of Japan and not just a fad."

Coach Norio Sasaki said his team no longer needed such powerful motivators to fire their title ambitions.

"In 2011 Japan suffered a terrible earthquake and tsunami and people really got interested in the World Cup," he told a press conference at Vancouver's BC Place Stadium.

"The players responded to that and gave everything they had in every game and inspired all Japan.

"I really did a lot of things to keep the motivation high. I created videos of the earthquake devastation and the players watched that, in this tournament I didn't do that."

Sasaki said that a team spirit forged over the past few years and losing the 2012 Olympics title to the United States were now powering his side.

It will be the third rematch between the two rivals in a major tournament in recent years.

"I didn't do anything special here to keep the motivation," he said of Japan who have won all six of their games so far in Canada.

"Compared to 2011 mentally they are stronger as a team. The motivation is also high because we're playing the United States again.

"It's kind of fate that we always play in the final against the US who helped up so much to develop our game in the past."

He added: "Tomorrow (Sunday) there will be probably be more supporters cheering on the USA, but I think the Nadeshiko can convert that to their own power."

Sasaki's players have been using the injury of team-mate Kozue Ando, who broke her ankle in the opening game and returned to Japan for surgery, as a source of inspiration.

Ando will return to Vancouver for Sunday's final.

"Our team is only complete when she is with us and she's coming back to Vancouver and we are going to win the World Cup together with her," said Miyama.

US star Abby Wambach has said that the date of their World Cup loss to Japan - July 17, 2011 - was etched in her memory, warning: "defeat is not an option".

But Miyama said that date and Aug 9, 2012 were on her mind.

"I've never forgotten the day we won (the World Cup) and I've never forgotten the day we lost the Olympic final. I too just have winning in my mind," said the 30-year-old.

"I wanted the gold medal in the Olympics but we were not able to do that, the bitter feeling I had back then has stayed with me."

US coach Jill Ellis described Japan's 2011 triumph as "a watershed moment" in the sport.

"It made people realise it doesn't matter how big or strong you are that technique is a massive part of the game." Ellis added: "I have tremendous respect for Japan and what they accomplish today, not just what they accomplished in the past."