Five things to know about Pacific rivals
As Australia and Japan prepare to square off in the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup at 2 p.m. Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, both squads know they are in familiar territory.
The teams know each other well since Australia switched to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. Last year, the Japanese defeated the Matildas 1-0 in the AsiaPacific Cup final.
Both teams have had impressive showings in this tournament. Australia came out of the Group of Death in second place behind the United States and defeated Brazil to get to the quarterfinals. Japan has won all four of its games.
“It’s a great rivalry for us,” said Australian midfielder Emily Van Egmond. “It’s probably one of the best games for us that we can play as a team, Australia against Japan, as they’re the world champs.”
Here are a five things to watch for in Saturday’s match:
Stellar short passes
Japan’s second goal in the Round of 16 match against the Netherlands was arguably the best of the tournament. There were four players involved in the beautiful play, which included a backheel pass and a false shot attempt before Mizho Sakaguchi buried the ball in the back of the net.
That quick, short passing display against the Dutch is the style Japan is known for and it’s certainly something the Australians need to be ready for.
Getting over the flub
Shortly after fans watched the most beautiful goal of the tournament, they saw what was likely one of the worst.
It was late in the Round of 16 game when the Netherlands’ Kirsten van de Ven put what appeared to be a harmless header toward the Japanese net. Somehow, Ayumi Kaihori misread the ball and it bounced behind her.
Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams is sure Kaihori has moved past the blunder.
“I know that if it were me, I’d have to shake it off pretty quickly,” Williams said.
Keeping their cool
Saturday is going to be a scorcher, with temperatures expected to reach 30 C. Japan and Australia will really feel the heat on the artificial turf. Players say they can feel the bottom of their feet burning on hot days.
“No matter what we feel, the Japanese are going to be feeling the exact same thing,” said Australia striker Kyah Simon.
“For us, thankfully in our domestic league, we play in the Australian summer. We’ve played in conditions that are over 40 degrees before, so we are familiar with it.”
Res ting eas y
The Australians have had two extra days to prepare for the quarter-final, having defeated Brazil on Sunday, while the Japanese wrapped up their Round of 16 game on Tuesday. The Matildas are well rested and may have the scheduling advantage.
Maintaining posses ion
To prepare for more physical teams, Japan has focused on perfecting its technical abilities. The squad is also known for its focus on possession. If Australia wants to defeat the reigning world champions, it needs to keep Japan’s possession numbers down and capitalize on the counterattack.
“You need get the ball back to then be in possession yourself,” Simon said. “We’ll defend like we defend, but once we get a hold of the ball, I think it’s even more important to (keep) a hold of it.”