Japan's coach Ikeda wants youngsters to grow as Nadeshiko head home

Japan's coach Ikeda wants youngsters to grow as Nadeshiko head home
Japan's players and staff after World Cup exit
Japan's players and staff after World Cup exit
Amid the regret and frustration of Japan's elimination from the Women's World Cup, coach Futoshi Ikeda sought solace in the lessons learned by his youthful team as they restored faith in the Nadeshiko project.

The Japanese failed to add another World Cup final appearance to those from 2011 and 2015 as Sweden's 2-1 victory in Auckland on Friday left many of Ikeda's players sobbing uncontrollably on the Eden Park turf.

It was a bitter disappointment for a vibrant team that had breezily scythed through opponents in the group phase.

Using a combination of controlled possession play and devastating precision on the counterattack, Japan racked up three consecutive wins before defeating Norway in the last 16.

But Sweden proved to be a Scandinavian nation too far for the Japanese, leaving Ikeda hoping his players have benefited from their World Cup involvement.

"It's difficult to describe the Nadeshiko's future vision now, but the younger players are on the world stage and they've experienced the toughness of the world game and they were able to play in these matches," said Ikeda.

"They have to use this as experience towards the Olympics and other preliminaries. We want these younger players to add strength to the Nadeshiko team.

"Not only the younger players but the other players need to become leaders when they demonstrate how to play on the field. We have to continue to work on Japan's women's football."

Japan's performances have restored interest in a team that had been ebbing away over recent years due to the inability of successive squads to hit previously attained heights.

World Cup winners in 2011 and runners-up four years later, Japan exited the 2019 finals in the Round of 16 before the Swedes knocked them out of the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games on home turf two years later.

A failure to win the Women's Asian Cup in India last year only increased the sense of uncertainty.

But the emergence of a crop of talented youngsters has reinvigorated a Nadeshiko side set to benefit from greater stability over the next four years.

Hinata Miyazawa, currently the tournament's leading scorer, is one of seven players in the squad aged 23 or under, while Ikeda is widely expected to remain in charge after he was backed to continue by his World Cup-winning predecessor Norio Sasaki.

"Since I became coach I knew I was taking them to the World Cup and I, together with the players, have worked hard to this point," said Ikeda.

"The players have become one unit, working in the same direction, and each player has created an environment where each player can grow.

"We came to this World Cup and from the first match against Zambia we did a lot of combinations and defensive strategy, and through that they learned how to play as a unit.

"I'm proud that they did but we lost and that's a fact as well. Going forward Nadeshiko Japan have to grow from this."


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