Can anyone stop Japan’s women in Futsal?
With three gold medal wins in a row, the Japanese women’s Futsal team should go into the Ashgabat 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from 17–27 September as the favourites to add to their tally of titles in Turkmenistan.
Wins in 2007, 2009 and 2013 established Japan as the leading force in the women’s indoor game in Asia, although their position as the continent’s number one team has come under threat since claiming their most recent gold in Incheon four years ago.
Coach Masanori Ito believes his team still has what it takes to continue their continental Futsal dominance despite the emergence of countries like Iran as a threat to their crown.
"For the team and also for Japanese Futsal, winning the title for the fourth time is an earnest wish,” said Ito, who played in the J-League for FC Tokyo before stints with Futsal clubs Fuchu Athletic and Deucao Kobe.
“If we become champions, we believe we can earn our place in Asian Futsal history. It's a great challenge and we believe we have the quality to achieve this goal.”
Iran present the biggest threat to Ito and his team as they seek that fourth win, with the nation from the West Asian region underlining that the strength of Futsal in the country extends beyond their men’s game by winning the inaugural Asian Football Confederation Women’s Futsal Championship in Malaysia in 2015.
The Iranians defeated Japan 1-0 in the final to claim the title – avenging their loss at the same stage in the 2013 Asian Indoor Games final - while also putting a dent in the confidence of Ito and his team.
“Unfortunately, we are not an enormously strong team in Asia at the moment and other countries are developing day by day,” he said.
“Iran is a high level team, and we think other teams also have the possibility to win the tournament so it is very open.
“Japan is ready to cope with this situation and we still believe it is not easy for others to beat us. We believe we can shoot for the title and we want to prove that.
“Our team is a mixture of experienced and young players so it is well balanced. We will lack some attacking players because of injury, and much will depend on how we can build our attacking style.”
Japan’s women have excelled in the outdoor version of the game in recent years, with the country claiming the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup title before making another run to the final four years later.
And while Ito and his players have been influenced by the success of the Nadeshiko, he does not want to produce a carbon copy on the Futsal court.
"They have greatly inspired us,” he said. “The Nadeshiko Japan of the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany in 2011 was a great team, and they expressed the magnificence of Japanese women.
“However, our objective is not to become a ‘copy’ of Nadeshiko Japan in 2011. As Japan’s women's Futsal national team, we want to bring our own originality and our own strength.”
The men’s and women’s Futsal events at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games will be held over 10 days at the state-of-the-art Multifunctional Sport Venue, just outside the Ashgabat Olympic Complex, kicking off on 16 September, the day before the event’s Opening Ceremony.
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